There was a time when he never thought he would be where he is today, Clifton Taulbert told the graduating class of the Technical College of the Lowcountry on Friday.
That's when he adopted a mantra. The Pulitzer-Prize-nominated author's voice rang out among the more than 300 graduates in the All-Weather Training Facility at Parris Island as they repeated it together: "I can. I will."
Taulbert told the students about the eight habits of the heart, an idea he said came from his great-grandfather's speech at his eighth-grade graduation in a small town in Mississippi.
The habits, which Taulbert has written about in a book, include a nurturing attitude, responsibility, dependability, friendship, brotherhood, high expectations, courage and hope.
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"Because of these habits, I have changed my life. I've transformed myself," Taulbert said.
Some of the habits already seem to be in action among TCL's graduates, who earned degrees, diplomas and certificates in arts and sciences, business technologies, health sciences and industrial technologies.
Benjamin Griffin, who graduated with an associate degree in administrative office technology and several other certificates, said one of his courses stands out in his mind, not for the subject matter but for the relationships he formed with his classmates.
In his keyboarding class, he said, they not only learned the ins and outs of the computer, but they talked about their struggles and triumphs.
"We talked about real-life stuff -- what was going on and how we could help someone else," he said. "It was very rewarding."
Griffin is the first in his family to graduate from college.
"My mother, she's hysterical, of course. She has eight kids, and I'm the last one," he said. "She is very happy."
He plans to continue his studies at the University of South Carolina Beaufort to become an early-childhood teacher.
But on Friday, Griffin was able to reflect on the end of his time at TCL. He served as president of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, president of the TCL gospel choir and vice president of the Student Government Association. Last week, he was named student of the year.
"I'm very emotional and I'm very excited" about graduating, he said. "I feel like I've accomplished a lot."