The speaker at the Dec. 17 fall commencement ceremonies at Coastal Carolina University is Ron Daise, vice president for creative education at Brookgreen Gardens, the University announced this week.
“I am thrilled to have been invited to deliver the commencement speech for the Fall 2019 ceremony at CCU and to be able to do so, particularly having survived a sextuple heart bypass in October of last year,” said Daise. “This will be my first address in this capacity at a university, and, importantly, at one that has made great strides toward advancing understanding of my Gullah Geechee heritage.”
For more than 30 years, Daise has promoted awareness of Gullah Geechee culture and history. A cultural preservationist, performing artist, and educator, he has developed and presented stories, songs, and lectures about history, culture, and faith at museums, theaters, conferences, churches, and educational institutions across the country.
He has served as vice president for creative education at Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet, S.C., since 2004, overseeing school field trip events for more than 4,000 students annually and presenting a weekly “Gullah Geechee Program Series.” His accomplishments, in part, garnered him the 2019 S.C. Governor’s Distinctive Achievement Award.
“Ron Daise is a gifted educator, communicator, and artist,” said Dan Ennis, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “Not only is he one of the best and brightest South Carolinians I have ever met, he is a national figure with local roots, and he’ll be able to share with our graduates an inspiring message about the power of creativity, the importance of integrity, and the transformative nature of education.”
In 2016, one of Daise’s creative pursuits resulted in the production of a CD, A Hushed Thrill, Brookgreen Gardens, for which he worked in collaboration with Brookgreen Gardens and CCU music students and staff of the Athenaeum Press. Daise composed the eight songs about the sights and sounds of Brookgreen Gardens, while the CCU partners arranged, performed, recorded, designed, edited, and mastered the entire project.
Daise is known by many as “Mr. Ron” on Nick Jr.’s award-winning and internationally broadcasted television program, “Gullah Gullah Island,” for which he and his wife Natalie performed in starring roles. They also served as cultural consultants on the program.
“I’m pleased to exemplify how a St. Helenian and his wife, who was born in Rochester, N.Y., were granted an opportunity to participate in a groundbreaking and internationally broadcast television program that helped transform the understanding and appreciation of a culture that at one time had been the object of ridicule, disdain, and even hatred,” Daise said. “I hope to leave each student with a message that’s fun, informative, and inspiring.”
His productions and recordings about Gullah heritage began after the publication of his first book, “Reminiscences of Sea Island Heritage,” in 1986. Several books have followed, including “Gullah Branches, West African Roots,” “Little Muddy Waters: A Gullah Folk Tale,” and “De Gullah Storybook.”
Daise is a former chairman and charter member of the federal Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission and a charter member of the Sea Island Translation and Literary Project, which developed the Gullah Bible. He is featured on a video exhibit about black language and speech at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
In 1996, Daise was awarded South Carolina’s highest honor, The Order of the Palmetto. In 1997, he was presented South Carolina’s Jean Lacy Harris Folk Heritage Award for lifetime achievement and excellence in folk art. He was nominated in 1997 and 1998 for NAACP Image Awards, and he also received a 1998 Daytime Emmy nomination. Daise received Parent’s Choice awards each year from 1995 through 1998, and he received the S.C. African American Heritage Commission’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007.
Daise earned a Bachelor of Arts in mass media arts from Hampton University in Hampton, Va. He and his wife reside in Georgetown, S.C., and are parents of three adult children.