McMaster paid tribute to the fallen Revolutionary War combatants whose remains were recently discovered in Camden, South Carolina, describing them as “those who answered when duty called,” and he returned to the theme of duty throughout his address.
Gov. McMaster spoke about the 1998 film “Saving Private Ryan,” in which a group of Army Rangers during World War II is given a mission of mercy—to find and remove from action a young soldier whose three brothers have been killed in combat. The Rangers succeed, but their search entails sacrifice, including the death of their commanding officer. McMaster said men and women willing to make sacrifices “built this country,” adding, “It was costly. Someone believed and invested in them just as others have believed and invested in you.”
As a result of the sacrifices of others, he said, “You have been given a magnificent country of liberty and freedom, and now in addition an excellent education with which you can open every door.”
Gov. McMaster urged the graduates to remember the sacrifices made for them, to remain curious and continue learning, and to live honorably, saying, “May you often hear from yourself these words—’why,’ ‘how,’ ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ ‘I love you,’ and ‘Amen.’”
The governor offered a warning and a challenge to members of the Class of 2023. “My young friends, please do not wander and stumble through your years with shallow embraces, but drink deeply and enter the arena of leadership with knowledge and faith,” he said.
“Remember, though others may not be reading books, they are reading you,” McMaster added, and returned to his opening theme. “Duty will call. Answer the call. May God bless you, and God bless America.”
College awards announced during the commencement exercises by Dean of the College D. Shane Bradley included the the Younts Excellence in Teaching Award, given to Associate Professor of Education Sandy Robinson.
Student awards announced were the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, given to Dante Alexander Jose Garrido of North Charleston, S.C., a magna cum laude graduate who completed a major in Political Science with Departmental Honors and a minor in History; the Mary Mildred Sullivan Award, given to summa cum laude graduate Sadie Elisabeth Anne Bradley of Due West, S.C., who completed a major in English as well as a major in History, receiving Departmental honors in both; and the H.M. Young, the highest honor for a member of the senior class, given to Elena Rachel Gaston of Anderson, S.C., a magna cum laude graduate who completed a double major in Chemistry and Biology.
Seminary awards for students included the Ray A. King Church History Award, given to Jackson Bryant Gravitt of Dayton, Tenn., a Master of Arts in Theological Studies recipient, and the Bruce G. Pierce Award for Christian Leadership, given to Charles Joshua Starnes of Clover, S.C., a Master of Divinity degree recipient who also earned the Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in Bible and Religion.
Erskine President Dr. Steve Adamson introduced the commencement speaker and, along with Erskine Board of Trustees Chairman Michael S. Whitehurst, presented the governor with the honorary degree of Doctor of Public Service.
McMaster became South Carolina’s 117th governor in 2017, following Gov. Nikki Haley’s appointment as ambassador to the United Nations. He was elected to a full term in 2018 and was reelected in 2022. Born in Columbia, S.C., he received a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of South Carolina in 1969. He attended the University of South Carolina School of Law, where he served on the editorial board of the South Carolina Law Review and graduated in 1973. He practiced law for more than 40 years, both as a federal and state prosecutor and in private practice in state and federal courts.
“Being a man of God, Governor McMaster exemplifies every aspect of Erskine’s vision of a life of service and leadership, building Christ’s church and influencing society for God’s glory,” Adamson said.
Serving as faculty marshals were Dr. Loyd D. Melton, crucifer, and Dr. Briana Van Scoy, mace bearer. The Rev. Joshua Chiles, chaplain, offered the invocation and Dean of the Seminary Dr. Seth Nelson gave the benediction.
The graduates were inducted into the Erskine Alumni Association by E. Phillip Cook ’92, president, who also announced the senior class gift of a white oak tree. He read Psalm 121—which in the Scots Presbyterian tradition is said or sung when someone is embarking on a journey—as a prayer for the graduates. The college senior with the highest average, Olivia Eleanor Browne of Vernon, British Columbia, Canada, responded to the induction on behalf of her class. She is a summa cum laude graduate with a major in Business Administration and a minor in Healthcare Management.
Near the end of the ceremony, Adamson introduced “a new tradition at Erskine”— the “Stole of Gratitude” worn by members of the graduating class and meant to be given by each student to a family member or other person as an expression of appreciation for the support and encouragement they have received.
Music for the event was provided by the Erskine College Choraleers, directed by Dr. Keith Timms and accompanied by Prof. Sharalyn Hicks, pianist, and Erskine College Sinfonia, conducted by Dr. Deborah Caldwell. Sadie Bradley , a summa cum laude graduate, president of the Erskine Choraleers, and winner of the Mary Mildred Sullivan Award, led the singing of the alma mater.