Artevia Murphy and Jennifer Spann celebrated as they received their master's degrees in education technology at USC Aiken's commencement ceremony on Thursday.

They had often talked and emailed each other, but had never met in person until that night – having completed their coursework online. Murphy, who lives in Charlotte, received her undergraduate degree at USCA in communications.

“I did an internship in the training department at SCANA,” she said. “It made me want to pursue a master's in education technology doing training.”

A graduate of UNC-Greenville, Spann couldn't find a job in informations systems and then discovered a new career in teaching – prompting her to get the master's degree, as well.

“The online experience gives you a different view of teaching,” Spann said. “You get to use a lot of skills you're learning in education technology.”

Both young women readily agreed they wanted to receive their degrees in person. So did hundreds of other graduates; a total of 408 were candidates to participate in commencement.

Justin Williams, a Manning native, was attracted to USCA by the positive things he had heard about the School of Business Administration and the college's affordability.

“It was awesome,” said Williams, who eventually wants to pursue a career in public health administration. “The professors really work with you, and I was known by my name and not by a number.”

Amanda Roquet had previously earned an associate degree in science. When she visited South Carolina with a friend, she decided to stay and enrolled at USCA, earning a four-year degree in exercise and sports science.

Roquet, too, had a great experience, and the smaller campus encouraged her to get more involved. She is taking a job as an exercise physiologist at Lexington Medical Center. As for coming to South Carolina, “I'm not leaving,” Roquet said with a laugh.

Cot Campbell, Dogwood Stable president, received the honorary “Doctor of Humane Letters” before his address to the graduates.

He immediately drew a laugh – noting the degree was his first ever, dating back to elementary school.

Earlier in a career that wasn't one yet, Campbell said he worked as a boat driver, nightclub car parker, apprentice mortician and a water ski show emcee. What matters most in the pursuit of success, he said, is the recognition of the need for energy, enthusiasm and commitment.

Patrick Stiebinger, the outstanding senior graduate, sounded a similar theme, adding that all the graduates should recognize the value of a moral obligation for themselves.

“How can I contribute to improve our world for those who come after us?” he said. “Small things and random acts of kindness matter, too.”

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.