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When the Claflin University Board of Trustees announced the appointment of the institution’s ninth president, a “new” period in the history of the university was ushered in, but with the same “old” vision of continuing the legacy of excellent transformational leadership.

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The announcement made public the conclusion of a rigorous process that was based in unique and enduring human interaction and strategic planning/working together. The chairman of the board said: “We believe he, (the new president) will continue Claflin’s upward trajectory, keeping the university among the nation’s leading institutions of higher education…”

While we marvel at the smooth transition of leadership that just took place at Claflin, brief documentation of how/why it all happened will not only inspire our greater appreciation but will also serve us well as we continue to build on the unique contributions of others.

Claflin, new president welcome class of '23

A capsuled glimpse of the last 25 years will help us more fully understand where we are today. Remembering that, “at best, history gives us an understanding of and appreciation for the gifts that individuals are, and the gifts people bring to the world. History does not serve us well, however, if it fails to lift up the importance of all persons. One lesson that history can teach us, if we allow it, is that our lives are linked together; we need each other’s gifts to reach our potential in the true global village that we have become.” For historical purposes, then, and for our own need to keep an appreciative mindset, we need to visit and revisit some things that serve us well.

The transformational leadership that led to the smooth transition of administrative management at Claflin didn’t “just happen.” Twenty-five years ago, the groundwork for this particular change began, building on the strength and pioneering efforts of previous leaders. Complete commitment became the first, most powerful tool that propelled the institution forward, to where it is today.

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There is a familiar quip that says, in essence, that whatever good is attained in this world comes only through “toil.” Dreaming, alone, will not create fruition; empty rhetoric will fall on deaf ears; planning without follow-through will not change the status quo. Only complete commitment and hard work/toil will guarantee success. Twenty-five years ago, the newly installed leadership at Claflin began to utilize these gifts, to a historic proportion, as it moved the institution forward. The results were phenomenal.

An enhanced environment evolved – the landscape was transformed, academics and related were expanded, new emphasis was placed on assisting students to become visionary leaders. Specific evidence of all of this abounds in university literature and campus tourism. As the institution had experienced some rough times in “its more than one-hundred years of existence, one alumna, returning to campus after a long absence, marveled at what he witnessed.

He compared his feelings to a quote from Harriet Tubman’s reaction to her escape from slavery. She exclaimed, “I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person now that I was free. There was such a glory over everything! The sun come like gold through the trees and over the fields and I felt like I was in Heaven.” Not as dramatic as Ms. Tubman’s description, but the evidence of commitment and toil was/is worthy of historical recognition – keeping the link of the chain of progress in place. To create and maintain an attractive and stimulating physical as well as mental atmosphere/environment is to create a happier, more productive faculty/staff/student clientele.

The combined use of the gifts of unconditional commitment and never-ending toil resulted in unprecedented growth with an undeniable boost of confidence. So, when the time came for the “changing of the guard,” Claflin performed well. Did it right! Dr. Henry N. and First Lady Alice Carson Tisdale toiled for 25 years – creating and passing on an “Arch of Confidence” for all of us to walk through for years to come. Thank you!

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President Dwuan J. Warmack, we heard your proclamation: “I am honored to lead one of the nation’s premier Historically Black Colleges and Universities that has a tradition of producing visionary leaders and a proven track record devoted to student success. My aspiration is to honor President Tisdale’s amazing legacy by continuing the Claflin standard as a beacon of excellence in higher education for future generations to come. I am humbled by the opportunity afforded me to carry the torch and to continue the growth and development of Claflin University as a dynamic and powerful center of scholarship, research and education.” Thank you!

President Dwuan and First Lady LaKisha Warmack – Welcome!

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Dr. Vermelle J. Johnson of Orangeburg is retired after having held the positions of executive vice president and provost at South Carolina State University and senior vice president and vice president for academic affairs at Claflin University.

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