Coastal Carolina University celebrated more than 700 students who were eligible to participate in fall commencement ceremonies at 2 and 6 p.m. on Dec. 17.
Ron Daise, vice president for creative education at Brookgreen Gardens, was the speaker at the two ceremonies, and he used messages from Nick Jr.’s award-winning and internationally broadcasted television program “Gullah Gullah Island” to inspire and motivate the graduates and to remind them that this is only the beginning of their lifelong quest for knowledge.
From the show’s song “Do As I’m Doing,” Daise implored students to remember that, even if they don’t realize it, they are being watched by others. If they want to be leaders who others will follow, they ought to “ensure that you exemplify the values of excellence and learnedness the faculty here instilled in you. Don’t be half-hearted about your pursuits. Pursue your dreams, and work responsibilities and affairs with excellence and without procrastination.”
From another song, “Yes, I Can,” Daise reminded the audience that they will be asked to do things in their careers that they’ve never done before or that they might think they aren’t able to do. “Don’t get stuck in a prison of self-doubt,” he said. “Stretch yourself! Yes, you can do it!”
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.
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” from “Gullah Gullah Island,” for which he and his wife Natalie performed in starring roles. They also served as cultural consultants on the program during its four seasons on air.
Five students were recognized for graduating with a perfect 4.0 GPA, earning them the President’s Award:
- Alyssa Celeste Conner, an English major from Myrtle Beach.
- Anna Grace McLean, a marketing major from Hemingway, S.C.
- Shonte Michelle Clement, a digital cultural and design major from Greenville, S.C.
- Emily Sue Doscher, a philosophy major from North Myrtle Beach, S.C.
- Maria Christina Sparacino, a psychology major from Waterford, Wis.
There were several other special moments during this year’s commencement celebrations. At the 2 p.m. ceremony, graduate Doris Glass, who turned 89 years old on Dec. 4, walked across the stage to receive her diploma in interdisciplinary studies.
During the 6 p.m. ceremony, sociology major and Army veteran Benzell Vereen and his service dog Blue walked across the stage together – both in graduation regalia – to receive Vereen’s diploma.
Both students exemplified the main point of Daise’s messages to the crowd: “Realize this day marks only the beginning of continued education. You have not yet reached the pinnacles of understanding, self-awareness, or wisdom. As said by Albert Einstein, ‘intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.’ Stay hungry for knowledge!”