As the 2015 University of South Carolina Beaufort commencement ceremony came to a close Friday night, the graduates were not the only ones saying goodbye to what has become their home for the past several years.
Roughly six months after announcing her retirement, Jane Upshaw stood on the commencement stage as chancellor for the last time.
USCB has been her home, however, for much more than four years -- Upshaw has served the university for more than 30 years, 13 of them as its chancellor.
She capped off that service at USCB's 55th commencement ceremony -- 12th as a 4-year baccalaureate institution -- that began at 6 p.m. on the Helen and Brantley Harvey Plaza at the Hilton Head Gateway campus.
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Upshaw delivered the keynote address to 299 graduates making up the Class of 2015, one of the largest graduating classes in the school's history.
"Like you, I, too, will leave USCB. I will retire from the university and embark on a new venture, as well," Upshaw said to her students. "But our respective next steps will be very different, or will they?"
Despite being at different ends of their careers -- the graduates just starting theirs and Upshaw's coming to a close -- she said their next steps aren't so different.
"We both are at the start of something new," she said, "and we also are at the end of our time at USCB."
Upshaw gave the graduates three tips for transitioning, tips that she has learned over the years and plans to use herself in the future.
She told students to think of their careers not as the destination, but the journey; to "take risks, calculated risks;" and to remember they are not doing this alone.
Upshaw shared stories from her career to enforce those points, including ones about when she started as a math professor several decades ago and about the movement to make USCB a baccalaureate institution.
She also talked of the many changes the graduating class has seen or helped usher in during their four years, such as adding new majors, breaking in new housing buildings and starting new competitive sports teams.
Fighting back tears, Upshaw told the students that it has been her greatest privilege to serve as their chancellor.
"My life beyond USCB will be filled with memories of all of you and the time we have shared," she said, her voice trembling as students and staff began to stand and cheer.
Before a crowd of hundreds of family, friends and community members in attendance, USC President Harris Pastides congratulated the graduates and thanked Upshaw for her service.
At the second of 13 USC commencements to be held across the state in the coming weeks, Pastides spoke of the growth USCB has realized and the momentum it is carrying.
The Class of 2015 will be a key part of South Carolina's future success, he said, and Upshaw has been a vital part of the university's past.
"Chancellor Upshaw has earned a permanent place in history as the first female chancellor of a USC campus," Pastides said. "She represents the best of SC's academic leaders and will be remembered."
The students agreed.
Cheering multiple times, they showed their affection for their retiring chancellor, who will officially leave her post in August.
Graduating USCB student government president Raechel Blakenly said it was amazing to be going out with Upshaw.
"It felt like she was speaking directly to me and all of our hearts," Blakenly said. "Everyone is buzzing with happiness, excitement, joy and camaraderie. I keep feeling how much I am going to miss this place, which has become my home, and miss Chancellor Upshaw. I want to be her when I grow up."
- USCB Chancellor Jane Upshaw announces retirement , September 26, 2014
- USCB students, staff want new chancellor to take risks like Upshaw , November, 16, 2014
- USCB narrows chancellor search to 4 candidates , April 15, 2015