Women of the Erskine College Class of 2018 gathered in the Bowie Arts Center August 24 for the 91st annual Signing of the Book, reciting the school’s honor pledge and adding their signatures to those of generations of freshman women.
This year’s speaker was Paula Bigby Clarke ’88, mother of freshman Lydia Clarke. Married to Robert S. Clarke III ’87, director of information technology at Erskine, she is also the mother of senior biology major Robert Clarke and two younger sons.
“Our youngest boys are in middle school,” she told the students. “You might see them at the ice cream machine in Moffatt—it’s their favorite place.”
Clarke teaches first grade at Honea Path Elementary School, and is accustomed to speaking before groups of children. Admitting that she was nervous at the prospect of speaking to the freshman women, she joked that she agreed to speak only in “a weak moment” when Coordinator for Campus Life Kaylee Lindquist invited her. “What was I thinking!” she laughed.
“Wow! To think that it was 30 years ago I was sitting in your seat—a brand new freshman at Erskine,” she said. “I read back over the names of the girls in my class and with each name came a fond memory or a story I wanted to share.”
Clarke said that rather than offering advice —“I bet everyone you talk to is trying to give you advice”—or sharing wisdom —“I decided that made me sound really old”— she would “just have a little talk about things that might help you along your way.”
“Be involved,” Clarke said, urging students to follow their interests into appropriate activities at Erskine. “There are so many organizations on campus. I’m afraid to mention them all because they have changed since my days on campus, but you get the idea.”
Citing her own experience of adjustment to college life, Clarke said, “Be kind. Make the effort to speak to everyone.” She said that when she came to Erskine, she had never been very far out of South Carolina. She recalled “being in Moffatt and just staring at people,” trying to get used to so many people she didn’t know.
“Some of them looked unusual. Their hairstyles, clothes, accents were all so different,” she said. “But I quickly found out that these strangers were exceptionally nice people. Some of them have become lifelong friends.”
Focusing on academics, “Be a seeker of knowledge,” Clarke told students.
“Just staring at that long reading assignment doesn’t get it done. Try to get work done in advance instead of waiting until the last minute,” she said, adding, “Find friends to be your study partners.”
Clarke also suggested that students check out the Supplemental Instruction program and recommended taking advantage of opportunities for learning outside their major offered during Winter Term.
“Be proactive,” Clarke said. “If you have a problem, big or small, don’t keep it to yourself—find someone to talk to. Erskine has wonderful people in every position who would love to help you.”
She noted that professors are “willing to help you,” and said, “Go to your professors! Don’t even hesitate if you need a little extra help, more explanation, more examples, or just reassurance that you’re on the right track. You won’t regret it.”
Clarke closed with “the most important advice I can possibly give you.”
“Be a servant of our Lord,” she said.
“To serve the Lord means keeping your eyes and ears open for what His will is for you.”
In her work as a teacher, Clarke said she is alert to “who is hungry, who doesn’t have clothes that fit, who doesn’t have a warm coat for the winter,” knowing that “these things are easy for me to help with.”
Young women in college might watch for other needs. “You might see someone who needs a friend to sit with them at lunch, who needs a happy note under their door, who needs a Bible study partner,” she said. “If you don’t know how you can serve, just tell God that you are willing and He will do the rest.”
Clarke concluded with a wish for “the best Erskine has to offer” and a challenge to “Become a part of Erskine so that you can experience firsthand [that] Erskine is wonderful, exciting, and awesome.”
Tobe Frierson, who serves as institutional director of admissions, provided music for the event, playing a piano donated to the college by Professor Emerita of Music Cortlandt Koonts.
Several seniors led the evening program.
Kathleen Watkins, chair of the Erskine Entertainment Board, welcomed the freshmen; Melanie Locke, vice president of the Student Government Association, gave the invocation; Student Life Assistant Mika Goyette introduced the speaker; Ana Unda, chair of the Judicial Council, led the honor pledge; and Tara Potter, president of the Athenian Literary Society, conducted the signing of the book.
Following the signing ceremony, Heather Endicott, a member of the Erskine Choraleers, led the singing of the Alma Mater; Chelsea Ball, president of the Student Christian Association, offered a closing prayer; and Chelsy Hunter, treasurer of the Erskine Entertainment Board, adjourned the meeting.
See more photos here.