Life is what you make of it. It’s what you do right now in the present moment in the face of whatever is happening – good or bad – that matters.
That was the message actor Matt Czuchry ’99 imparted to the Class of 2018 as the commencement speaker for the College of Charleston’s final Spring Commencement ceremony on Saturday afternoon. Recalling the uncertainty he felt as he drove the 2,379 miles from South Carolina to Los Angeles to begin his life as an actor following his graduation from the College in 1999 – a choice he made after failing the LSAT to get into law school – Czuchry said it was in a moment of sheer terror as he closed in on the final leg of his journey to California that clarity struck.
“The fear was gone, I became fearless and focused in the present moment, focused on the pursuit rather than the unknown,” said Czuchry. “We have to accept the unknown challenges in our lives because they are the reality of our lives. Hardships are guaranteed for all of us. But they are not guaranteed to define us.”
Czuchry added: “The present moment. That is the only moment in which we are truly alive. And our attitude towards that present moment, whatever the present moment reveals to us, that is what will define us.”
More than 500 degree candidates from the College’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences and School of Languages, Cultures and World Affairs walked across the Cistern on Saturday afternoon, May 12, 2018, to celebrate the culmination of their academic careers.
The graduates laughed and hugged and gave high-fives in Cougar Mall as they waited in the hot May afternoon sun to cross the iconic Cistern Yard. It’s a moment that many said they have been waiting for all of their young adult lives. For other graduates, it was years in the making – the start of a new chapter in their life’s journey.
“CofC’s been a great four years and I’m excited to use what I learned here and apply it to make somewhere else in Charleston better,” said communication major Christopher Prohaska, who plans to stay in the Charleston area after graduation.
For Latisha Robinson, the moment was filled with quiet joy.
“It just feels good I finally finished,” said Robinson, a public health major who plans to get a graduate degree in public health and eventually work in health promotion.
“It took me 10 years to finish my degree,” said Clayton. “I was suppose to graduate in 2011. I dropped out, became a massage therapist, did medical massage therapy for seven years and owned my own business.”
But then, Clayton decided last year it was time to finish what she started. After exiting Porters Lodge, she’ll begin a new career in communications with PhishLabs in Charleston.
“I’m excited!” said Clayton.
And for Edwin Randolph Hille ’74, the experience of walking across the Cistern for a second time to earn an Artium Baccalaureatus in Latin and a minor international studies was an evolutionary moment 44 years in the making. Since earning his philosophy degree in 1974, Hille has worked on a hydrographic ship for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, taught courses at Trident Technical College, and even written for a newspaper.
“I’ve had a million jobs,” Hille said with a laugh, noting that when he attended CofC in the 1970s he served as student body president. Next in his journey, Hille said he wants to teach and write – after he get’s a bachelor’s in sociology in another few years.
Czuchry’s life since his time at the College has come with a series of successful roles in Hollywood. Collaborating with some of the best talent within the film and television industry, he has worked on projects such as Gilmore Girls, The Good Wife, and his current show on Fox, The Resident, in which he plays the title character of Dr. Conrad Hawkins.
During his years at CofC, Czuchry, who grew up in Johnson City, Tennessee, was a talented student-athlete who played on the men’s tennis team, while also double majoring in history and political science. Although he hadn’t come to the College with plans to pursue a career in acting, Czuchry began to think differently about his professional future after theater professor Joy Vandervort-Cobb made note of his presence and raw talent. It was his big win as Mr. CofC, and a prize of free acting lessons, that ultimately set Czuchry on a course for life as an actor. He graduated from the College summa cum laude and received the Bishop Robert Smith Award, the highest honor given to a graduating senior who represents valued contributions in academics, sports and leadership within the Charleston community.
Czuchry and Charleston City Councilman Perry Keith Waring both received honorary degrees during Saturday’s ceremony. Waring, who has served as council member of District Seven for the City of Charleston since 2012, was recognized for his leadership in the City of Charleston and at the College, where he has served as a member of the College of Charleston President’s Campus Diversity Review Committee and the College’s Foundation Board.
The time to live our best lives is now, said Czuchry, urging students to make a positive difference in the world.
“Just as vast technological advancements creating interconnection is the new normal of your generation, historic issues such as ensuring equality for all have found a renewed strength in your voice, in your time, because of you,” said Czuchry. “And as a result, your generation now has the power to finally guarantee that all of us gain access to our own unique shot at our own best lives.”
College of Charleston President Glenn F. McConnell ’69 urged students to see the day as a special moment in time – one that signifies a new start in their life’s journey.
“It’s a day of endings and a day of beginnings,” said McConnell, who spoke for the final time at commencement as president of the College. McConnell is retiring this summer. “Today is not your conclusion of your College of Charleston experience. Far from it. Today is simply a new chapter.”