College of Charleston President Andrew T. Hsu shared the following message regarding the Juneteenth holiday on Friday, June 18, 2021: 

Dear Campus Community,

Happy early Juneteenth!

Tomorrow, on this historic date, we, as a country, recognize and acknowledge the freedom of Black Americans.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the history of Juneteenth, it honors the day in 1865 that Union troops notified the people of Texas that slavery had been abolished. Since that time, we have come to use this moment to celebrate Black contributions to American history and culture.

In that spirit, I would like to share a point of pride for our campus in the person of Vernon Kennedy Jr., a member of the Class of 2021 and this year’s recipient of the Presidential Award for Scholarship, Leadership and Service, the College’s most prestigious honor for graduating students.

Throughout this institution’s centuries-old history, the College has graduated many brilliant minds, and Vernon ranks among the brightest of them. Early in his career at the College, Vernon, a native of Winnsboro, S.C., fell in love with conducting research, specifically in psychology professor Jennifer Wilhelm’s laboratory. There, Vernon studied the effects of estrogen signaling and exercise on spinal cord changes following peripheral nerve injuries. That depth of scholarship helped Vernon, a biology major concentrating in molecular biology and an Honors College student, become a 2020 Goldwater Scholar, the nation’s top scholarship for STEM undergraduates.

Now, that he has crossed the Cistern and earned his biology degree, Vernon will be a post-baccalaureate fellow for the National Institutes of Health’s Intramural Research Training Award Program, where he’ll be working on a project within the Institute of Aging. Then, he plans to return to school to earn his medical degree and doctorate in order to become a physician-scientist (something the world desperately needs now more than ever!).

Vernon represents what the College of Charleston does best – providing students hands-on opportunities to explore and pursue their passions and intellectual interests at the highest levels.

While Juneteenth may have its roots in the past, this day has come to mean so much more about our present and future. On this Juneteenth, I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on the contributions of our institution’s many Black students, faculty, staff and alumni and how integral they are to the College of Charleston experience and what makes us not only special, but great.



Andrew T. Hsu, Ph.D.
College of Charleston