David Lauderdale

What graduates didn't learn about fame and fortune

University of South Carolina seniors in Columbia whined that their graduation speakers were college professors and such, while the girl's school across town had Bill Clinton.

Poor dears. You'd think they'd be more considerate of their parents who -- though penniless -- could at least leave Columbia knowing their child heard one lecture from a professor.

"What a joke, this is embarrassing," spewed one of the scholars, commenting on a Daily Gamecock story about the speakers. "This is what I get for four years here?"

And another: "What a slap in the face. You can kiss any donation I may have made good-bye."

Speakers at graduation ceremonies for the various colleges at the university included Inez Tenenbaum, a South Carolinian who is a good role model for any of the seniors; Glenn Tilton, a USC graduate who is chairman of JPMorgan Chase Midwest and former chief executive of Texaco and United Airlines; and Jane Lubchenco, the first female administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

But the seniors longed for yesteryear when USC speakers included Tom Brokaw and Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke.

Instead they got a USC professor of religious studies and a USC clinical associate professor of dermatology.

I wanted to tell them: "How rude you are, you ingrates. Distinguish yourself as a professor and then complain. Besides, you won't remember next week who spoke at your graduation, much less 50 years from now when you may consider giving money to dear old Carolina."

But when I saw that one of the graduation speakers was retiring USC history professor Walter Edgar, I wanted to take back all those diplomas. Edgar is our bow-tie and suspender-wearing state historian, born in Alabama but so South Carolina I thought for years his name was Doctah Waltah Edgah.

For 40 years, he's taught South Carolinians the murky, factual details that can make us proud (helping win the American Revolution) and make us embarrassed (take a numbah).

He has written the definitive history of the state and edited the South Carolina Encyclopedia. And in his popular "Walter Edgar's Journal" program at noon Friday's on SCETV radio, he's warmed our hearts for 11 years with interviews that blend South Carolina's ingredients like grits and gravy. The show will go on, by the way, with its titles ranging from "Deliver Us from Evil: The Slavery Question in the Old South" to "The Black Bottom Biscuits."

I'm sure the USC students learned a lot in Columbia. But I wish they'd learned that fame does not make a person worth listening to.

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