Nearly 400 undergraduate and 46 graduate students received degrees in a ceremony at the College of Charleston’s Carolina First Arena on Saturday, December 19, 2010.

Anna Baur, a biology major, and Steven Hammell, an accounting major, earned perfect 4.0 grade point averages. Two undergraduate students also earned the prestigious Artium Baccalaureatus (AB) degrees: Amy Decker, a psychology major, and David Marialke, a classics major.

New York Times best-selling author Dorothea Benton Frank offered advice to graduates on how to make smooth sailing of their lives.

“Dream a dream that is as big as you can imagine but be reasonably certain that it’s one you have a good chance to fulfill,” Frank told the graduates. “This is the time in your life to try different things. Mistakes will cost you much less in your twenties than they will cost you later on. For every success I have ever had, the road behind me is littered with mortifying mistakes.”

Dorothea Benton Frank has written 11 books in the past decade and just wrapped up her summer U.S. book tour for the newest, Lowcountry Summer. Frank has appeared on NBC’s Today Show, Parker Ladd’s Book Talk and many local network affiliated television stations. She is a frequent speaker on creative writing and the creative process for students of all ages in both public and private venues. Frank is also a nationally recognized volunteer fundraiser for the arts and education. She was born and raised on Sullivan’s Island, S.C. and now splits her time between South Carolina and New Jersey. Her son William, a history major, is graduating from the College of Charleston at this commencement ceremony and her daughter is an alumna.

“As her millions of devoted readers know well, Dorothea Benton Frank’s novels evoke strong passions for our Lowcountry landscapes, history, and traditions,” said College of Charleston President P. George Benson. “At the College of Charleston, we draw inspiration from these same assets, and we celebrate and nurture our bonds with Charleston and the Lowcountry.”

Dorothea Benton Frank and Merton D. Simpson received honorary degrees during the ceremony. An honorary degree is given to someone with an exceptional record of distinction and achievement in at least one of the following areas: scholarship, research, teaching, creative arts, and public service, or manifests outstanding acclaim to the College.

Born in 1928, Merton D. Simpson is a world-renowned artist, jazz musician, philanthropist and prominent African art expert. The Burke High School graduate cultivated his talent and appreciation for art and jazz growing up in Charleston. At 13, his artistic talents were discovered and encouraged by Charleston artist William Halsey, who taught him abstract expressionism. Halsey was a studio art professor at the College of Charleston for 20 years, and the Halsey Gallery in the College’s Simons Center for the Arts is named in his honor.

Early in his career, Simpson’s paintings were placed in both the Guggenheim Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. He is one of the first known African-American abstract painters and the first African-American to study at the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston. While in the U.S. Air Force he painted portraits of top military officials including General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Simpson is also known for a series of 22 abstract paintings done in the 1960s, during the civil rights era, called the “Confrontation” series. He was one of the world’s foremost authorities on African art. He currently resides in New York, and owns a tribal and modern arts gallery in Chelsea, New York. Although he never returned to Charleston to live, he says growing up here influenced his art for life.

“The College is proud to recognize the accomplishments of Merton Simpson, an artist whose earliest creative passions took root in his native Charleston,” Benson said. “Though confronted by racism as a young African-American growing up in the segregated South, Simpson’s indomitable spirit and creative drive helped him attain an international reputation as a painter, collector, and expert in African art.”

The College of Charleston is a public liberal arts and sciences university located in the heart of historic Charleston, South Carolina. Founded in 1770, the College is among the nation’s top universities for quality education, student life and affordability. With more than 11,000 students, the College of Charleston offers the distinctive combination of a beautiful and historic campus, modern facilities and cutting-edge programs.