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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Clyburn inspires in new stadium
By OTIS R. TAYLOR JR. - otaylor@thestate.com

This first will be remembered for the faces, arms and legs stunned by the sun's prickly spring tentacles.

Benedict College's 137th commencement convocation Saturday - the first held in Charlie W. Johnson Stadium - was a burner, indeed.

U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn gave the commencement address, urging graduates to make careful decisions.

He also told the 185 students to get "a book of somebody you would like to emulate."

"Use that as part of your pattern for living," said Clyburn, D-S.C. For Clyburn, who also addressed Columbia College on May 5, former president Harry S. Truman has emulative qualities.

The field's grass was rubbery soft, and the graduates marched in with the pageantry of a homecoming celebration. Balloons fluttered in the light breeze, and programs either shielded eyes from the pulsing sun or fanned necks stretching for collar relief.

It didn't rain, but umbrellas were still a commodity.

"Aren't you a sweetheart," said a woman sitting in front of Oscar Grambling, who leaned his umbrella shade forward.

"Might as well share the wealth," he said.

Wiping the forehead left a lotion-like glisten on fingers, and the backs of shirts were dotted as if they had been marked by a water pistol.

One woman, who was talking on her cell phone, summed the conditions up eloquently: "I'm up here frying like chicken," she said.

"Being from Wichita (Kan.), we don't have this humidity," said Wayne Frazier, who was there to support his son, Ryan. "I was about to pass out."

The heat, though, didn't measure up to the magnetism on the field. Florence native Jessica Ballard got her diploma and danced on the 50-yard line. Her moves - in heels, nonetheless - were akin to the bionic foot shuffle of TV's George Jefferson.

Dwayne Browning of Decatur, Ga., and Derrick Coleman of Augusta are members of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. They wore gold boots to salute fraternity member Charles R. Young, a West Point graduate and World War I officer.

"The boots represent a long struggle," Browning said. "These boots started out black, but after (Young) finished walking, they were gold."

After the recessional, family and friends went onto the field to take photos with graduates. Brandi Wright congratulated Arthur R. Mays of Columbia with a delicate kiss.

"I feel great," Mays said. "It's been a long time coming."

Ella Sumter of Hopkins fanned herself in the stadium parking lot. Her black gown unzipped, she reflected in the sunshine.

"My parents died when I was really young," she said. "This was my parents' dream. I'm actually glad and relieved."

So what's next for Sumter and others? "I'm going to take a year off and then I'm going to teach," she said.

Some immediately went to the reception in the Benedict College Business Development Center, undoubtedly in search of cooler air.

Source: The State Newspaper