A message of perseverance undergirded by 118 years of historical leadership and service was shared among community members who came together to celebrate South Carolina State University’s Founders’ Day on Sunday afternoon.
University leaders and students say they have confidence S.C. State can sustain itself in the midst of ongoing financial challenges in the aftermath of the inauguration of its 11th president, Thomas J. Elzey, who recently had to appeal to the state Legislature for $13 million to help pay the institution’s bills.
“This is a sankofa time,” S.C. State University Trustee Board Chairman Dr. William Small Jr. said, referencing the word in the Akan language of Ghana whose English translation means to “reach back and get it.”
“This institution has always been engaged in a struggle for its life. We are experienced and ready to deal with the challenge,” said Small, who implored the audience to bring their voices to the conversation and their shoulders to the wheel in support of the institution.
“It is more than money. We want you to put your shoulder to the wheel. We need a better network of support,” he said, noting that writing legislative representatives is just one way individuals can begin to “create a model for the survival of black institutions across the state.”
Small addressed those who converged upon S.C. State’s Smith-Hammond-Middleton Memorial Center for the 118th anniversary of the university’s founding. Attorney Kenneth W. Ravenell, a 1981 graduate of S.C. State, was the keynote speaker for the ceremony, which was held under the theme “Pursuing Excellence Through Legacy and Leadership.”
Ravenell, a senior partner in the Murphy, Falcon & Murphy law firm of Baltimore, Md., pledged $100,000 to the university he said helped shape him into the successful attorney he is today.
“We can only help each other if we give back. We’re going to continue fighting. We will not quit,” Ravenell said, noting the education he received at the university was invaluable, along with the support he received from a supportive, loving family who instilled a strong work ethic in him.
“It is good to be home, because S.C. State is home to me,” he said, noting that his dream of becoming a lawyer was fulfilled when he stepped foot on the campus in 1977, having met the first attorney he had ever met in his life at the university. The only other interaction he had with lawyers was through television, he said.
“I have fond memories of this school,” he said, noting that while not all of his peers in the political science field went on to become lawyers, they “all did positive things because of what they got here.”
He said he was glad to have the opportunity to come back to speak at Founders’ Day because it is one of the university’s proudest days, a day to reflect upon its history, celebrate its present and renew its vision for the future.
He recalled not just the education he received at S.C. State, but the fun times, including the dances, which sometimes featured acts such as Chaka Khan and Parliament Funkadelic, and energy-packed football games.
“Those are the times that you don’t get back,” said Ravenell, who said his mother, who was seated in the audience with other family members, instilled the value of hard work in him and his siblings.
He said he knew he didn’t want to work out in the fields all his life as part of a sharecropping family, nor did he want to work in a plywood plant under his brother, who was the supervisor at the time. He wanted to become a lawyer and knew that a good education was the only way to fulfill his dream. He said he got that education at S.C. State, as did several other members of his family.
“We all enjoyed it, and we all learned a lot from it,” he said, noting that he is not afraid of hard work and doesn’t consider his legal work nearly as hard as what he went through growing up.
“I don’t consider that hard work after what we came through. I’ll take a mental challenge any day,” he said.
Vernell Brown, a 1967 graduate of S.C. State, is president of the university’s National Alumni Association. She said she knows S.C. State has made an impact because she recently met a 98-year-old graduate of the institution in Dallas who still had pictures and other information from the university. Brown said it was important to continue the tradition of Founder’s Day.
“We stand here to honor our legacy. We take the opportunity to celebrate that heritage,” Brown said.
Miss S.C. State University Sadia Robinson said it is indeed important to honor the university’s past, celebrate its current achievements and envision its future.
“It is now time to take legacy and leadership to new heights,” Robinson said.
This year’s distinguished alumnus honorees are:
Virginia Berry White of Orangeburg, who received a bachelor’s degree in social work from S.C. State in 1991. White is the executive director for the Low Country Healthy Start Program at the South Carolina Office of Rural Health.
Michael A. Allen, a native of Kingstree, received a history education degree from S.C. State in 1982. Allen is currently one of the founding board members of the International African American Museum, which is slated to open in 2018 in Charleston. He is also developing the Low Country Lighthouse Charter School, which is expected to open in August.
Ted Crews, a native of Columbia, Md., received a bachelor’s degree in professional English from S.C. State in 1999. With more than 14 years of experience in the NFL and sport communications, Crews currently serves as the vice president of communications for the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Distinguished Alumni Award was presented to the class of 1963. Patrena Rice, a 1971 S.C. State graduate, was presented the Thomas E. Miller Society award. Twenty-five year employees were inducted into the Quarter Century Club, and Professor of the Year awards and Staff Employee of the Year awards were also announced.
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