Could Luther "Tommy" and Linda Wood keep a secret? Or would the Fort Mill couple tell their daughter, Ashley, that she snagged a top university honor?
"She came home for Easter," Linda Wood said of her daughter, a senior at the University of South Carolina. "It was real hard keeping it from her."
But the Woods held out and kept their secret until nearly two weeks ago, when Ashley received the Steven N. Swanger award, one of USC's top leadership awards.
"I was just stunned," Ashley Nicole Wood, 22, said hours after receiving the honor during the university's annual awards ceremony held April 16. "I'm honored that I was chosen for the award. It's the the second highest award an undergraduate student can receive at the university....It's a reflection of my positive experiences at the university."
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Wood, an English major who is awaiting USC law school acceptance, graduated in 2005 with honors and an academic letter from Fort Mill High School. The lifelong Fort Mill resident expects to graduate magna cum laude in from USC on May 9. Yet, earning the Swanger award is no small feat, said Frenche Brewer, USC media relations.
"It's a very prestigious award," Brewer said. "It's one of the university's highest honors for undergraduate students."
Back in Fort Mill, Luther and Linda Wood could do little to conceal their pride about their daughter's award.
"We're just absolutely ecstatic about it," Linda Wood said. "We're very proud of her. She's been very involved (at the university) since day one. I'm just glad that she's being recognized for her hard work and dedication."
When an university official called with the award notification, Linda Wood had to vow to secrecy.
"They made me hold up my right hand and promise that I would not tell Ashley that she was getting this award," Linda Wood recalled.
Yet, school officials said nothing about the Woods sharing the news with family. So they did. But they didn't tell Ashley.
"I was impressed that they were able to keep the secret for two weeks," Ashley said. "I was surprised someone didn't link the secret because my family and I are always talking."
On April 16, Ashley received two awards for outstanding senior as well as recognition as Who's Who among American students in colleges and universities.
After the third honor, Ashley thought that she was done collecting awards.
Then the university's President, Harris Pastides, got up to present the Steven N. Swanger award.
"He stands up and starts talking about everything I'd done during my time at USC," she recalled.
"Putting all the pieces together, I knew it was me."
Ashley claimed her fourth award, and a proud father beamed.
"I've never been prouder," Luther Wood said.