“We are the first institution of higher education in South Carolina – post-pandemic – to have an indoor commencement, so we have a lot to celebrate,” said Claflin President Dr. Dwaun J. Warmack to more than 300 candidates who were conferred bachelor’s and master’s degrees during Claflin’s in-person Spring 2021 Commencement Convocation. The ceremony was held on Saturday April 24, at 11 a.m. at the Jonas T. Kennedy Health and Wellness Complex. “We are having this ceremony because you visionary leaders made it possible.”
The Commencement Convocation was originally planned as an outdoor event at the Orangeburg County Fairgrounds. However, it was moved inside due to the threat of inclement weather.
“Class of 2021, you have been cheated a lot so we did not want you to be cheated out of this tradition of walking across this stage,” Warmack said. “There are many challenges in this world, but we feel a sense of responsibility to overcome these challenges. Claflin University continues to be the beacon of light that transforms you as graduates to go out and do major work - and this you will do.
Warmack had similar remarks for the spring and fall class of 2020 who participated in their commencement earlier in the day at 8 a.m., also in the Jonas T. Kennedy Health and Wellness Complex.Last year’s commencement was a virtual presentation due to COVID-19 restrictions.Graduates received degrees but they were denied the ceremonial walk across the stage.Many of them returned to participate this year to the delight of family members, friends, classmates, and University administrators.
“COVID-19 stole a lot from you,” Warmack said. “It stole family. It stole friends. But we refused to not let you have this moment to walk across the stage so that you can be celebrated by your family and friends – we know this moment is very important.We were told that today (Saturday), it would be pouring down rain, with lightning and 25 miles per hour winds. They said you have to cancel commencement. But I said not over my dead body – we will find a way. We wanted to celebrate you class of 2020. You have been through so much. This is truly your time.”
Among the highlights of the Spring 2021 Commencement Convocation was the presentation of an honorary doctorate that was awarded to businesswoman and philanthropist, Ms. Anita G. Zucker, chair and chief executive officer of The InterTech Group, Inc. (TIG), a privately held company founded by Zucker and her former husband, Jerry Zucker (OBM). One of the largest private companies in the USA, TIG and its affiliates operate in a diverse array of industries, from aerospace and specialty chemicals to real estate and entertainment.
“I am a first-generation college student as well, Zucker said. “I am a child of parents who survived the holocaust. They were strong and resilient and immigrated to the United States. I was one of three daughters. My parents gave me the best opportunity in my life which was to gain a good education.”
Zucker, who graduated from the University of Florida, provided a brief chronology of her journey which included intimate details about her personal struggles.
“I worked my way through school as a teacher’s aide and I was married at 18,” she said. “My husband and I had a restaurant and I began teaching public school in a small town in Florida while my husband also worked at a local paper mill. But in 1978, we moved to South Carolina and we have been here since then. South Carolina is my home.”
Zucker said she continued to teach in public schools when she arrived to South Carolina, but she later began working for the company.
“I ran the company’s business education partnership programs,” she said. “My passion for education has never left me. I developed my leadership skills serving as a member of the board of directors with the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, Trident United Way and the Coastal Community Foundation. I later served as board chair for each of those organizations.”
Zucker recalled how in 2008 her husband died of an incurable brain cancer. However, for 21 months prior to his passing, he taught her as much as he could about how to run the company.
“People talk about a glass ceiling in the corporate world,” Zucker said. “I hit the grief ceiling. Being the CEO of a large global company and the sole head of my family – all of this was a very daunting task. But I was able to survive a very sad and difficult life situation and still come away with a smile – with the help of my friends and my incredible work family.” She added that her mother and sister passed away this year.
Zucker shared some of the wisdom she received from her former husband who she refers to as “Jerry Zucker of blessed memory,” when she told the Class of 2021 “it is critical to have a sense of urgency and a bias for action. If you love your job you will never work a day in your life.”
She concluded her remarks with an insightful call to action that challenged the graduating class to step forward to make a positive impact on society.
“Don’t be a bystander for hate,” Zucker said. “We have to stand up and use our voices for good purposes. Honor and integrity are two of the most important values that guide my life.”
Claflin’s celebration of collective and individual academic achievements during the commencement ceremony included presentations to two outstanding scholars who excelled in the classroom. Thalia Butts, a mass communications major with a minor in English and Emersen Frazier, a political science major, received the Top Honor Graduate Award. Both students had 4.0 grade point averages (GPAs) and are members of the Alice Carson Tisdale Honors College. Butts is a native of Lithonia, Ga., and Frazier came to Claflin from Topeka, Kansas.
Claflin's student-focused academic programs and a faculty comprised of world-class scholars contributed toU.S. News and World Reportranking the university ninth in its 2021 list of the nation's top historically Black colleges/universities (HBCUs). Claflin is the top-ranked HBCU in South Carolina and the University has earned a place among the top 10 HBCUs in the publication’s prestigious ranking for 10 consecutive years.
U.S. News and World Reportalso ranked Claflin ninth overall among the schools in the Best Regional Colleges in the South rankings.