On Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020, four accomplished graduates from the College of Charleston’s Class of 2020 will address their classmates in celebration of their academic achievements in the face of unprecedented times. While it may not be the commencement they envisioned, it will certainly be one to remember.
Honors College students Olivia Rothstein and Asia M. Pitts are the 2020 recipients of the Theodore S. Stern Cup award, which honors graduating students demonstrating character and leadership within the CofC community.
Rothstein, who will speak at the commencement ceremony for the School of Business, graduated this past spring with bachelor’s degrees in political science and historic preservation and community planning. She is currently serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA with the program “Experience UGA” in Athens, Georgia. She has plans to attend graduate school in landscape architecture.
Receiving the Theodore S. Stern Cup, says Rothstein, felt like recognition not just of her leadership, but of her growth and the challenges she overcame.
“At the end of junior year, I ran for student body president alongside my best friend, and when we lost, I was devastated. As a person who does not take a lot of risks typically, I felt like I had failed,” she says. “Even though I knew this wasn’t the case, I felt like it meant I was not a strong enough leader. Throughout my senior year, I worked really hard to rebuild my self-confidence and remind myself that one outcome of one election does not define who I am as a leader. To be mentioned in the same sentence as Mr. Stern is a privilege, and receiving an award dedicated to him and his legacy is a true honor.”
Pitts graduated as a double major in public health and international studies. She is currently the lead community organizer for the Savannah Area Interfaith Justice Ministry (SAIJM), a nonprofit in Savannah, Georgia, comprised of diverse faith-based congregations that are working to make the Savannah area a more just place to live.
“I’m honored to have been considered for the Theodore S. Stern Cup award, and I’m even more grateful to be one of the recipients,” says Pitts. “During my time at the College, my goal was to find ways for meaningful engagement on campus and within the community.”
Through her involvement in the Honors College’s Scholar-Citizen Initiative, Pitts was introduced to the work of the Charleston Area Justice Ministry, which led her to apply to their parent organization, the DART Center, to learn more about community organizing – particularly with faith-based congregations. Pitts will speak during the commencement ceremonies for the Graduate School; School of Education, Health, and Human Performance; and School of Languages, Cultures, and World Affairs.
Katherine “Abbie” Kline, also an Honors College student, graduated as a double-major in communication and international studies. She is taking a year of service through the Greenville County Behavioral Health AmeriCorps VISTA program, working at SWITCH, a nonprofit organization working to end human trafficking and sexual exploitation in the South Carolina Upstate.
The student commencement speaker for the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Kline says being chosen as the recipient of the Alexander Chambliss Connelley Award, which recognizes a student for his or her contribution to the student body and the College, is one of the highest honors of her life.
“It is wonderful to have my hard work and dedication to service recognized and awarded; it is not why I serve, but it certainly helps to keep me motivated and remind me that I am on the right track,” she says. “I feel that this award is the perfect culmination of my time at the College and was a needed affirmation as I stepped into my post-graduate life, which I hope to commit to service and excellence.”
Reflecting on her time at the College, Kline says one of the most significant experiences was a class trip to Washington, D.C.
“The most memorable part of the trip was our visit to Bread for the City, a comprehensive frontline agency serving the poor of Washington, D.C.,” she recalls. “While listening to the communications director talk about the importance of language in providing dignity and agency to those served by the organization, I envisioned my future career. As soon as I returned from that trip, I changed my major and began pursuing my new career dream of directing communication for a nonprofit service organization.”
Kline plans to seek employment opportunities at nonprofit organizations in the field of behavioral health.
Niamh Cahill graduated from the Honors College with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and a minor in Spanish. During her time at the College, she studied abroad in Santiago, Chile, and joined many student organizations, serving as president of Charleston Miracle and MEDLIFE. She is currently taking a gap year while she applies to medical school.
Being recognized as the recipient of the Bishop Robert Smith Award, which recognizes students who demonstrate exceptional leadership and academic excellence and is the highest and most selective honor a graduating student can achieve at the College of Charleston, came as a surprise to Cahill, who will speak at the commencement ceremonies for the School of the Arts; School of Professional Studies; and the School of Sciences and Mathematics.
“When President Hsu told me that I had been chosen to receive the Bishop Robert Smith Award, I was completely shocked,” she says. “I feel incredibly honored and thankful to be considered alongside the other amazing College of Charleston alumni who have previously received this award.”
One standout moment during her time at CofC was the 2019 CougarThon, a 13-hour dance marathon hosted by Charleston Miracle, which raises money for the Medical University of South Carolina’s Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital.
“That year was special because it was my second year on [Charleston Miracle’s] executive board, and we raised over $143,000, the highest fundraising total Charleston Miracle had ever revealed,” recalls Cahill. “I remember standing on the stage when we announced the total and feeling so proud that so many fellow Cougars from all across campus had come together to help kids in the Charleston community. Thinking about this moment, along with so many others, reminds me of the history that has been made at College of Charleston and makes me proud to say that I am a graduate of the College.”