For the students, staff, family and friends of Clinton College, Thursday night was not a night of sadness, but of God’s uplifting spirit.
Gathered in the gym of black and yellow, a full house came together to remember Clinton students Devonte Gibson, 21, of Rock Hill and Tito Hamilton, 19, of Florida who were among the four people who died Saturday when a charter bus carrying members of the Ramah Juco Academy football team and others suffered a blown tire and crashed into a guardrail and bridge in North Carolina.
More than 40 were injured in the crash, which also took the lives of Darice Lamont Hicks Jr., 8, of Rock Hill and bus driver Brian Andre Kirkpatrick, 43, of Chester.
The Clinton community celebrated the lives of Gibson and Hamilton through prayer, song and scripture.
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“We all have to come together as one,” said Clinton student Zanyell Evans. “We have to uplift one another. Put a smile on your face, we will get through it.”
Janis Pendleton, Clinton’s vice president for academic affairs, has worked at the school for more than 20 years. She said it was a blessing to be among Clinton students, faculty and supporters as they remembered two of their own.
“I’m blessed to be among the very best,” she said.
Pendleton evoked the words of President Barack Obama in her speech.
“We are going to break through the fear and the frustration that people are feeling,” she said. “Our job is to make sure that even as we make progress, we are also giving people a sense of hope and vision for the future to be Clinton College strong.”
Angelo Geter, former academic learning specialist at Clinton, shared a poem he wrote for the occasion. Passages referred to the strength of the school and the community.
“My heart and prayers are with you,” he said. “The person I am today is a lot because of Clinton College. When the world collapses around you, Clinton has always stood strong.”
Geter said Clinton is a safe haven for its students.
“Adversity will never be powerful enough to wash away our hope,” he said. “As long as we are together and unified, we will never be defeated.”
The college’s president, Elaine Copeland, said she wants the community to continue to lift Clinton up with prayer.
“We need to have all of our students supported and loved,” she said.
An outdoor candlelight vigil followed the memorial service.
“Overpowering the darkness, that’s what light does. Just as joy overcomes sadness,” said Bishop Mildred B. Hines, chair of Clinton’s board of trustees.