Winthrop commencement includes tears, cheers

adouglas@heraldonline.com December 15, 2012 

  • Other honorees

    Saturday’s graduation ceremony at Winthrop was President Anthony DiGiorgio’s final December commencement ceremony. He’ll lead the May ceremony in 2013 and plans to retire the next month.

    Before Saturday, DiGiorgio had conferred 18,500 undergraduate degrees and 6,300 graduate degrees over his 23 years at Winthrop.

    He gave Winthrop’s top academic honor, the Tillman Award, to Christine Nicodem of Fort Mill. The Tillman Award goes to the student with the highest GPA in the graduating class.

    A Winthrop chemistry and geology professor, Irene Boland, received the Kinard Award, the university’ top faculty honor.

    Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols and his wife, Sylvia, were given honorary “doctor of humane letters” along with state Sen. Hugh Leatherman of Florence on Saturday.

    Doug Echols spent seven years as Winthrop’s associate director of athletics. He was the first commissioner of the South Atlantic Conference, holding the position for 19 years before retiring.

    He is a 1976 Winthrop graduate and has been mayor of Rock Hill since 1998.

    In accepting his honorary degree, Echols said Winthrop is a part of who he is. His time at the university, he said, “led in many ways to a life of public service.”

    Sylvia Echols was honored by Winthrop for her role as an “advocate of children.” She earned a childhood development degree from Winthrop and went on to work as an early childhood education consultant, co-coordinator for the Central Child Development Center and preschool teacher.

    Leatherman has been a senator since 1981, chairing the S.C. Senate’s Finance Committee. He is also on the S.C. Budget and Control Board.

    He has, DiGiorgio said, “provided a stalwart and common sense voice representing South Carolina citizens of all ages, in both prosperous and challenging times.”

    Anna Douglas

— Winthrop University graduates took turns forming a line of black gowns, scanning the stage nearby to see if there was anything they might trip on.

Joshua Hurst – a tall, young man in a suit – stood out as he waited among the sea of black mortarboards.

Every parent, grandparent and friend at the Winthrop Coliseum applauded for their graduate on Saturday – many let out a celebratory whoop or holler.

When the name of one senior – Anna Marie Hurst – was read aloud, it was like she was everyone’s child or classmate.

Joshua Hurst took a deep breath before he crossed the stage to receive his sister’s diploma.

The parents in the audience who came to watch their child’s milestone stood up and clapped and many cried for Anna – honoring the Hurst family who attended but didn’t get the chance to watch their 21-year-old daughter cross the stage. The student behind Joshua Hurst crossed the stage next, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye as she managed a smile for the waiting photographer off stage.

Anna Hurst died Friday – one day before Winthrop’s commencement. She was at her family’s home in Rock Hill.

She would have been among the 36 other students who received a degree from Winthrop’s College of Education. “One of our own” – as one graduation speaker put it – Anna’s name was one of about 300 seniors who earned a college degree on Saturday.

Friends from her sorority Alpha Delta Pi remember Anna as “such an amazing person on the inside and out.”

Many in the community remember her as someone with "special way with children,” as a worker at the Carolina Kids Child Development Center. She and her brother Joshua were graduates of Northwestern High School in Rock Hill. Anna was a cheerleader at Northwestern. The night before Anna died, she was with her family helping decorate their Christmas tree.

"She went to bed very happy and died during the night from an unknown cause,” Winthrop’s Frank Ardaiolo, vice president of student life, said in an e-mail to the campus.

Before observing a moment of silence at the ceremony, faculty member Elke Schneider told the audience, “The Winthrop University family grieves with the Hurst family.”

Anna Douglas 803-329-4068

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