Claflin Graduation

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Claflin University graduates from the 2020 and 2021 classes have been invited to participate in this year’s in-person ceremonies. Pictured, from left, are Annette M. Jensen, Student Government Association President Marquel Sanders, Vithun Muthu-ku-maran and Thalia Butts. 

Claflin University’s 2021 Spring Commencement Convocation will include more than 300 students, some of whom are thrilled about the opportunity to graduate in-person after more than a year of virtual activities.

Marquel Sanders, president of the Student Government Association, will be graduating Saturday with the Class of 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing.

The Cross native said being able to graduate in person is special.

“It gives the opportunity for your family to come together and actually celebrate. I know that virtually last year a lot of students complained about, of course, not having in-person graduation. That’s the life everyone dreamed of, eventually, of course, walking across the stage, especially after attending an HBCU,” Sanders said.

Claflin University graduates Annette Jenson and Thalia Butts reflect on having in-person graduation. To get local news all the time, become a member at

He added, “I love that Claflin University took that step … to give students that opportunity to walk across the stage.”

Claflin hosted virtual spring and fall commencement convocations for the Class of 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic’s height. Graduates of both classes have been invited to participate in this year’s in-person ceremony with the spring Class of 2021.

The threat of inclement weather forced the university to change its venue from the Orangeburg County Fairgrounds to the Jonas T. Kennedy Health and Wellness Complex on Saturday, April 24.

The commencement for the Class of 2020 will be held at 8 a.m. It will be followed by the commencement ceremony for the Class of 2021 at 11 a.m.

Orangeburg resident Annette M. Jensen will be among the Class of 2020 graduates who will walk across the stage on Saturday. Jensen received her bachelor’s degree in nursing during a virtual ceremony in November.

She said this year’s in-person ceremony will be “bittersweet” for her after all these months.

“Graduation is kind of like a culmination of everything and you’re walking with your group,” Jensen said.

Jensen, a nurse, said it was a challenge working and going to school at the same time, but her experience at Claflin enhanced her adaptability skills.

“I was working through the pandemic the entire time I was here at Claflin. So I was dealing with an extremely stressful work situation and being a full-time student at Claflin at the same time.

“Everything that came out of Claflin honestly taught me adaptability. It was stressful. I went back to college after 38 years of being out of college, and that was very stressful in itself,” Jensen said.

She continued, “Then with the online program, who knew that us online students were going to have the leg up last year, though?

“When it actually hit, when the deep of it got in there, we were already doing Claflin Online and understood that.

“Our clinicals were affected. We couldn’t go out and do our community work that was scheduled for us to do, but the professors here worked super hard to give us an excellent community-type experience.”

Jensen ended up changing her career path following her virtual graduation.

“I was able to do that because of the degree that I walked away with from Claflin. I left in-hospital nursing, and I do community health nursing now with the South Carolina Office of Rural Health and Family Solutions here in Orangeburg,” she said.

Jensen added, “It helped me refocus why I became a nurse, what I really wanted to do and how I really wanted to help impact Orangeburg. So I did get a new career out of it.”

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Vithun Muthu-ku-maran, an international student from Sri Lanka, will be graduating with the Class of 2021 with bachelor’s degree in computer science.

While it was “heartbreaking” that his parents couldn’t come witness his graduation because of the pandemic, he is happy that his uncle and aunt will be there.

“The past year has taught me to take everything from a positive note and to take one day at a time. So I’m taking that as a positive side. My aunt and uncle will be with me,” Muthu-ku-maran said.

Thalia Butts, of Lithonia Ga., will also be walking across the stage Saturday with the Class of 2021 after earning a bachelor’s degree in mass communication.

She’s grateful the university took the time and effort to figure out how to hold an in-person graduation ceremony.

“Even if it can’t be the type of graduation that we usually have, I’m grateful,” Butts said.

Sanders said he has learned what visionary leadership is all about over the past year.

“If life attacks you one way, try to figure out: How can I do something different? How can I make a better Claflin University for the students? At first, we were trying to have events and stuff on campus, and we had to try to get some more different options of how we can still have events, but in as safe a way as possible.

“So that was one of our main things. I was able to learn the different roles about student government and also learn how to be there for the students. … I would definitely say that visionary leadership really taught me a lot,” Sanders said.

Butts said she has learned the value of time and, “to always make the most of whatever time that you have.”

While her senior year was impacted by the pandemic, she was grateful for the full HBCU experience she enjoyed during her freshman, sophomore and junior years.

Sanders will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army upon graduation, while Muthu-mu-maran is looking forward to providing more economic opportunities for his home country.

“I’m from Sri Lanka. So I’m bringing my degree from Claflin. I just want to get some additional experience here. I want to go back to my country and get some job opportunities, which is very much lacking in our country,” he said. His Claflin experience “really helped my career ambitions.”

Butts will be attending the University of South Carolina, where she plans to pursue a master’s of mass communications degree.

She said while no one could have foreseen the pandemic and its impacts, she and other graduating students should be proud of how far they’ve come, especially with a pandemic.

“We should all be kind of very happy for ourselves and very excited,” she said.

Muthu-mu-maran said, “Whatever happens in your life happens for a reason. So that made me able to take everything that happens in my life positively.”

Sanders, who will be graduating a year early, said he wants to inspire others to stay focused on their education because “fun and enjoyment will come eventually.”

“I still had the time of my life here at Claflin University. I love Claflin University. I wish could experience one more homecoming,” he said.

Sanders continued, “I’m looking forward to graduating with the class of 2021. I met them over the past three years, and I can say they’re really, truly good people. I’m ready for this experience on Saturday.”

Both of Saturday’s graduation ceremonies will be ticketed events and have socially-distanced seating. Only invited guests can attend. However, the programs can be seen online on the university’s Facebook page at

The Class of 2021 will also include the 100th graduate from Claflin’s RN to BSN (bachelor of science in nursing) program, which launched in August 2016.

Claflin will also award an honorary degree to businesswoman and philanthropist Anita G. Zucker, chair and chief executive officer of The InterTech Group, Inc.

Contact the writer: or 803-533-5534. Follow “Good News with Gleaton” on Twitter at @DionneTandD

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