Claflin University's 148th Commencement on Saturday, May 12, represented the culmination of four or more years of rigorous academic preparation for members of the Class of 2018. During her remarks, keynote speaker and CNN White House Correspondent April Ryan asked Claflin's 385 visionary leaders in the graduating class, "What will be your story?"
For many, the next chapter of their story begins with continuing their academic journey at prestigious graduate and professional schools or launching their career with a Fortune 500 company.
Trisana Fairweather and Brianna Williams achieved 4.0 cumulative grade point averages and were presented Presidential Academic Excellence Awards during Claflin's commencement. Fairweather and Williams are headed to graduate school and both were members of the Alice Carson Tisdale Honors College. Fairweather will attend Indiana University to pursue a master's degree in accounting. Williams will enter the master's program for psychology and counseling at the University of Illinois.
"I am very excited about graduating and everything I accomplished at Claflin," said Fairweather, who delivered the "Senior Challenge." She was Claflin's first-ever NCAA Division II national champion and All-American in track in the 200 meters.
"I came to Claflin on an academic scholarship and joined the track program as a walk-on. I did not come here expecting to become a national champion but working hard, training hard, and doing my best enabled me to excel," said Fairweather.
Fairweather also received scholarship support from the Passport to College program, a non-profit organization that provides opportunities for qualified students from developing countries who are strong in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) to attend college.
As a first-generation graduate, Fairweather understands what her degree means to her family. "The commencement was a one-in-a-million extraordinary event for my family," said Fairweather. "My mother could not make the trip from Jamaica, but she was able to watch the live streaming of the ceremony on the computer. She is very, very happy and excited."
Williams described her Claflin experience as "academically stimulating" and said that her mentors and advisors contributed to her success in the classroom and her personal development.
"Mrs. Cynthia Duncan Joseph and Dr. Anisha Bagasra were instrumental in providing me the inspiration and guidance that helped me achieve my goals," said Williams. Joseph is the director of Claflin's Freshman College and Bagasra serves as interim director of online education and a psychology professor.
"Claflin has prepared me with the skills to navigate in a world of diverse attitudes and cultures," Williams said. "Claflin taught me how to think critically as a visionary leader and transformed me into a responsible adult ready to affect positive change in the world."
Williams plans on earning a doctorate in counseling psychology. Next, she wants to become a college professor and move up through the ranks in higher education administration.
"After teaching, I want to be a provost or possibly a university president," said Williams.
Hillary Mokaya and Abraham Kipcchirchir Rotich were among the 17 international students in the Class of 2018. Mokaya earned a bachelor's in business and administration with a concentration in finance. Rotich received his bachelor's in biochemistry. Mokaya is fromNairobi, the capital and largest city of Kenya. Rotich is fromEldoret, Kenya. Both graduates were also students in the Honors College.
"My career goal is to be a venture capitalist, so I want to learn more about finance and investments," said Mokaya. "We learned a lot of concepts and theories in the classroom, but several of my professors shared their real life experiences which were extremely helpful."
Mokaya has accepted a position withPricewaterhouseCoopers, which is recognized as thesecond largest professional services firm in the world,and is one of the Big Four among global accounting firms. Mokaya is the company'sfirst campus hire in their New Ventures program.
"Traditional accounting processes are being replaced," said Mokaya. "Companies are now attempting to survive by developing new services and products. The goal is to create innovative technology in accounting that will generate profit around the clock - like Google, Facebook and other digital and online enterprises."
Mokaya said that he was very shy when he arrived at Claflin. However, he now has the "Claflin Confidence," and he is ready for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
"I have grown since I began my Claflin journey," he said. "I am looking forward to the next chapter and the start of my professional career."
Rotich will attend Case Western University to pursue a doctorate in chemistry.
"Claflin provided me the opportunity to work in the biology department as a research assistant with Dr. Nick Panasik," said Rotich. "He taught us to explore new methodologies and techniques to solve problems. I conducted research at Claflin and I also spent two years at the University of Iowa. As a researcher,you expect to be challenged by other researchers, which creates a great teaching and learning environment."Rotich's Honors College Thesis was related to one of his undergraduate research projects: "Alternative Production of Lactose-Free Milk for Lactose Intolerant People: Enzyme Redesign."
"I made many friends and I will cherish my time at Claflin," said Rotich. "My professors challenged me to think and really prepared me for graduate school."
"The accomplishments of these students represent Claflin's commitment to preparing graduates who will make a positive impact on the nation and world in education, business and industry, science and technology, government other areas of our society," said Claflin President Henry N. Tisdale. "We are especially proud of our graduates who will continue their education at renowned universities and research centers or launch their professional careers with high-paying jobs at top tier companies. The Class of 2018 will continue Claflin's enduringlegacy of producing diverse and engaged visionary leaders with global perspectives."