“Today, many people are questioning what we as a people have known forever, and that is the value of higher education,’ said Dr. Belle Wheelan during her keynote message for Claflin University’s recent Sesquicentennial Founders’ Day Convocation. Wheelan currently serves as president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) and is the first African American and the first woman to serve in that position. Her career spans over 40 years and includes the roles of faculty member, chief student services officer, campus provost, college president and Secretary of Education.
“Since its beginning, Claflin University and its sister institutions have known that the way out of poverty is through education,” Wheelan said. “Today’s economics demand that citizens earn more than the basics of a high school diploma. No longer are jobs dependent on the strength of the back but on a strong mind. Whether they are a neurologist or an auto mechanic, everyone needs some education beyond high school. “More and more applicants need at least a bachelor’s degree to enter into any career field.”
Wheelan spoke to a capacity audience of students, faculty, alumni, elected officials, and other University supporters at the Jonas T. Kennedy Health and Wellness Complex. The Founders’ Day Convocation concluded Homecoming Weekend and the University’s year-long celebration of its 150th Anniversary.
“Although the cost of education has grown considerably over the last 50 years, it is also true that without education, a person’s personal value will lag behind those who do earn those coveted degrees,” said Wheelan who quoted Harvard President Derek Bok when she stated, “If you think the cost of education is expensive…try ignorance.”
Wheelan received her bachelor’s degree from Trinity University in Texas (1972) with a double major in psychology and sociology; her master’s from Louisiana State University (1974) in Developmental Educational Psychology; and her doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin (1984) in Educational Administration with a special concentration in community college leadership.
“It is important that when you walk down the streets of Orangeburg, you represent Claflin University in the way you look and act,” she said. At all times, you are being judged by the way you carry yourself. It’s not fair but it is very real. You represent the proud heritage here at Claflin that began 150 years ago. I congratulate all the members of the Claflin family on a job well done.”
Claflin’s Sesquicentennial Homecoming was the first for Claflin President Dr. Dwaun J. Warmack, who began his tenure as Claflin’s ninth president on Aug. 1 2019.
“This has been my 109th day at Claflin and this homecoming weekend has been amazing,” announced Warmack at the Founders’ Day Convocation. “I attended more than 40 homecoming events and I want to thank our alumni for turning out in large numbers despite the rain and cold temperatures. Thank you for coming home.”
During his remarks, Warmack reflected on the collective contributions of Claflin’s eight previous presidents whose visionary leadership and commitment to academic excellence provided the framework for the University’s enduring legacy of achievement.
“I am standing on the shoulders of eight giants who came before me,” Warmack said. “They were remarkable leaders who displayed tremendous tenacity, courage, drive and a commitment to transform Claflin into one of the leading institutions in the nation. I am glad the board has entrusted me with leading this great university as Claflin begins its next 150 years. As president of this beloved institution, we will remain committed to our students. We are here because of you (students) and you are our top priority.”
Receiving this year’s Bythewood Award, which recognizes an individual’s outstanding and extraordinary contributions to the University and the community, was Senator John W. Matthews Jr., a Democratic member of the South Carolina Senate. Matthews has represented the 39th District since 1996.
Another feature of Founders’ Day was the opening of a time capsule that was sealed in 1994 — the first year of Dr. Henry N. Tisdale’s 25-year tenure as Claflin’s eighth president. A family photograph of the Tisdales, names of members of the University’s executive cabinet and the Student Government Association (SGA) were among the items from the time capsule Warmack displayed to the audience.
A fireworks presentation ended the evening and concluded Claflin’s homecoming and Sesquicentennial festivities.