Clements installed as 3,200 Clemson students graduate

John Bolton/

New Clemson University president James P. Clements presided over the first graduation ceremonies of his tenure on Friday at Littlejohn Coliseum.

CLEMSON — As part of an inauguration that spread traditional academic proceedings over three commencement ceremonies Friday, Clemson University President James P. Clements offered an address that drew inspiration from sources ranging from Thomas Green Clemson to his mother.

Through brief remarks delivered at the first of Friday’s ceremonies, Clements challenged new graduates — as well as faculty, staff, alumni and friends in attendance or watching it live online — to make a difference.

Citing the weekend’s observance of Mother’s Day, Clements said, “Today, as we stand in the presence of so many supportive parents and family members, I am reminded of some of those life lessons. My mother always told me to be a good person. She didn’t say, ‘be right all the time.’ Good people make mistakes. Good people fail. However, good people strive to do the right thing, the first time and every time.

“(My mother) told me to make a difference. She didn’t say, ‘Try to make a difference.’ She said, ‘Make a difference.’ This small distinction instilled in me a sense of urgency. Yes, we must do our homework, and, yes, we must understand the consequences of our decisions. And we must also be willing to act with courage, and with conviction, if we are to make a difference.”

More than 3,200 students graduated Friday. The morning ceremony included the colleges of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Science, with 561 students receiving degrees; and Engineering and Science, with 900. The 2:30 p.m. ceremony was for the colleges of Architecture, Arts and Humanities, with 443 graduates, and Health, Education and Development, with 505. The College of Business and Behavioral Science’s 873 students received degrees at the 6:30 p.m. ceremony.

The installation of the university’s 15th president provided a unique twist for Clements’ first graduating class while keeping the focus on the new graduates.

“They have worked hard to achieve this very important milestone,” Clements said. “We decided this would be a nice way to involve students, parents and faculty without incurring the cost or using the resources to plan a separate event.”

Each of Friday’s ceremonies included presentations by members of the board of trustees symbolizing the authority and responsibilities of the office of president:

At the morning ceremony, Clements received the presidential chain, seal and robe signifying the president’s academic and civil authority.

At 2:30 p.m., he received a framed copy of the will of university founder Thomas Green Clemson, reflecting the president’s responsibility to carry out the founder’s vision.

At the 6:30 p.m. ceremony, he received a framed copy of the state’s Act of Acceptance of 1889, which officially marks the founding of Clemson. It symbolizes the land-grant university’s partnership with the state of South Carolina and its statewide mission.

“Those of us who are privileged to work at universities get to make a difference every day, by teaching and mentoring our students, by doing research and discovering new things, and by taking those discoveries into the communities across the state and around the world,” Clements said. “That is the beauty, and the mission, of a land-grand university.

“I have challenged our faculty and staff to always seize the opportunities, large and small, to make a difference. And I challenge the graduating class to do the same. I hope that, in your years at Clemson, you learned much more than agriculture, engineering, forestry and science. I hope that we instilled in you to be a good person, to keep your word, to listen and learn from others and to make a difference — in your home, on your job, in your community, and in the world. If we have done that, then we have delivered on the trust that you, and your families, placed in Clemson”

Clements was named president of Clemson in November and took office Dec. 31. He joined the Clemson family following four and a half years as president of West Virginia University. Previously, he was provost and vice president for academic affairs at Maryland’s Towson University, as well as Robert W. Deutsch Distinguished Professor and vice president for economic and community outreach.