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College of Charleston Graduates Urged to Embrace the ‘Extraordinary’ in Life’s Challenging Moments



By: College of Charleston Media

Years of hard work and dedication culminated in a momentous afternoon of joy and pride for nearly 500 graduates from the College of Charleston’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences and School of Languages, Cultures, and World Affairs during commencement exercises on Friday, May 12, 2023.

The Class of 2023 is particularly special to College of Charleston President Andrew T. Hsu, who took the helm of the College the same year many of the graduates first came to campus.

“We were freshmen together on this campus back in 2019,” Hsu said. “To me, you will always be my class.”

And this class of students has proven themselves determined and adaptable amid a rapidly evolving world that’s facing a variety of challenges. They now leave the College prepared to help make a difference no matter the hardships they may face.

“At the College of Charleston, our liberal arts curriculum shapes all of our majors and academic disciplines, providing you a wide range of knowledge that will make you adaptable, flexible and creative,” Hsu told the members of the Class of 2023. “But, most important, your exposure to different ideas, philosophies and perspectives will make you a lifelong student – someone always willing to grow and evolve. That is what the world needs now more than ever.”

And part of that evolution for many of the College’s new graduates will mean finding the extraordinary within the ordinary, said College of Charleston psychology professor and commencement speaker Cynthia P. May.

As a self-described “fairly ordinary person,” May said her life as a teacher, researcher, wife and mother was a stark contrast from that of the leaders, influencers and actors often tapped to address college graduates. But within her life as an educator and mother of six children – one of whom was born with Down syndrome and then died from leukemia at 3 1/2 years old, and another with Down syndrome whom she adopted after her mother, former CofC professor Allison Piepmeier, passed away in 2016 – May has proven that by focusing on the positive, even in the face of adversity, you can make an impact and change lives for the better. Those obstacles have driven May to become an advocate and supporter of the College’s REACH Program, a fully inclusive certificate program for students with mild intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, along with other community initiatives that assist people with intellectual disabilities.

“I encourage you in your search for the extraordinary – when life hands you more than you asked for, dig in. Try to enjoy the ride, it will be over faster than you can imagine,” she said, continuing, “Uncertainty in life can be difficult, but when you embrace the unexpected, life can be extraordinary. Be the silver lining when life deals you a hard blow. And invest in your relationships. It is through and with others that we are extraordinary.”

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