Column: Concerning College – Studying down south opens gate to world

BY MARK LERNER – GUEST COLUMNIST

Four years ago, during the graduation season of 2013, my wife and I often found ourselves explaining, even defending, our son’s college choice. Miles, an Edina High School graduate, would attend Furman University. Where’s that, friends and relatives asked. In South Carolina, really? Don’t you think down there he could turn into a redneck?

Well, Miles just graduated from Furman, with a degree in economics, and a college experience as rich and rewarding as any parent could hope for. As a bonus, our family was introduced to the Carolinas, a beautiful part of the country home to people with manners as pleasant as their accents are quaint.

Miles played rugby at Furman, and his team’s road trips took him widely through both Carolinas. From the Citadel in Charleston on the coast to Appalachian State in the mountain town of Boone, North Carolina, we traveled to watch his matches. At them, we came to know some outstanding young men, teammates who were as well spoken as they were athletically gifted.
About a quarter of Furman’s rugby club were foreign students. Adrian came from Montreal, Dylan from the Cayman Islands, Matty from England, Patrick from Kenya, and Thomas from South Africa. It wasn’t lost on me that here in the Deep South, Patrick, the team captain who is black, and Thomas, the South African who is white, could become best friends. In December, the team concluded a brilliant 13-1 season, finishing as the second-ranked Division II school in the nation.

At commencement, the other Minnesotan in the class of 2017 was chosen to give the student address. To 700 graduates and thousands of family members and friends who had come to honor them, Jack McNeill, a lacrosse player from Bloomington, spoke eloquently of what it took to earn a Furman degree.

McNeill used a boxing metaphor, saying that to get to this day Furman students had to endure the punches that hit them over the past four years. The “punches” were mainly the university’s rigorous academic demands, but also the social and, for many, athletic challenges. Furman could knock you down, McNeill said, but bouncing up off the canvas, round after round from freshman to senior year, is what prepared him and his classmates to make their way in the world.

Ten students from China and three from Vietnam were among the graduates. The Vietnamese came from Hanoi and Hue, places with names that many from my generation associate with destruction, and death to American GI’s. Their grandparents might have fought and died fighting Americans, but no matter: these students, setting history aside, had made their way from Southeast Asia to Greenville, South Carolina, and Furman’s embrace.

Alexander Stubb, Class of 1993, gave the commencement address. Stubb, who majored in political science, reached Furman on a golf scholarship from his native Finland. In 2014, he became his country’s 43rd prime minister.
The day after the graduation ceremony, Miles and his mother and I drove to Atlanta to help him find an apartment. His new job as a research analyst with a private equity firm there begins in July. Thank you, Furman.

An Edina resident, Mark Lerner is the father of two college graduates and two current college students. He may be reached at [email protected]

  • jessica.hennessey

    Great article! It was a pleasure to have Miles in my economics classes at Furman. We bonded early on over our Minnesota connection. I’m glad Furman was the right fit for Miles and hope others up north continue to discover what we can offer!