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Wofford adds alternative graduation gift to college Bible

A Bible from an 1873 graduate of Wofford features the signatures of all five of the college’s professors.


After 10 years of campaigning by professors and others, the Wofford College faculty has decided to make a small alteration to their traditional graduation gift. For 159 years the faculty has given a signed Bible to graduating students. This year students were given the option to receive “Wofford College, a pictorial history of the college,” instead of a Bible. The decision has been largely received positively. This change alters a tradition that began in July 1856 when Samuel Dibble became the first graduate of Wofford College. Dibble was given his diploma and a gift, a Bible signed by those who taught him at Wofford. Since then, the tradition of giving graduates a Bible has persisted largely unchanged.

Dr. Robert Moss, professor of biology, has been a long-time supporter of the change.

“I’ve been writing a letter proposing the change for 10 years, and this year Dr. Samhat said, ‘take it to the faculty and see what they think.’”

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Moss’ proposal was eventually cosigned by 18 other faculty members. In the end the proposed changed passed a vote of the faculty by a large margin. Reverend Ron Robinson, the Perkins-Prothro chaplain and professor of religion at Wofford, is a supporter of the new option.

“It is terrific,” Robinson says. “It is a good place for us to be as a college. We are still maintaining the tradition of offering the signed Bible. But we want to offer everyone a chance to receive a meaningful gift.”

Moss agrees, believing that the new option means more students will receive a gift with the same significance that a Bible would have had to the students of the 19th century.

“For a student of a different faith or tradition, a Bible doesn’t have the same impact. Let’s give students the option, so they can have a cherished gift.”

Dr. Phillip Stone, the college archivist, is the author of Wofford College. Stone says the decision to use his book was not inspired by him. “It was really a sur- prise for me. I didn’t advocate for it. It wouldn’t have been appropriate for me to advocate for it,” he says.

Stone also maintains the archives for the annual conference of the South Carolina United Methodist Church. Wofford College grew out of a project that he tackled for the sesquicentennial anthology of the college along with Doyle Boggs and Jo Ann Brasington.

After the project, Stone decided to create a book with materials from the archives.

“There were pictures that had never been used. My goal in writing this was to raise awareness of the archives,” says Stone.

Stone acknowledges that the situation is strange for him.

“It is a little awkward for me to find out that something I wrote is being offered as an alternative to the Bible.”

Stone would also like the opportunity to revise his book somewhat since it is already a few years old and contains no reference to some current Wofford events, like the appointment of Samhat as president.

“If the college is going to do this, we may need to do a revision to at least add the last couple of years to it.”

The current edition of Stone’s book will be given out to at least 25 seniors, who Robinson says responded to the opportunity for an alternate book by the April 17 deadline.

While Robinson and Moss are both fully supportive of the decision, Gray- son Sally, a 2014 graduate of Wofford, is torn. Sally is a staff member for Campus Outreach, a Christian student group.

“I can see both sides of the argument. Every student that applied to Wofford was aware that the college was founded upon Christian principles. Thus, they shouldn’t be surprised, or offended, when the school demonstrates its Christian roots.”

Sally also understands that the book doesn’t have the same significance for those who do not want it.

“I support offering an alternative gift. From the perspective of a Christian, I believe that one is never going to convince a person to become a Christian or read the Bible by shoving it in their face… so there isn’t much purpose in giving students a Bible who are opposed to reading it.”

Sally, Robinson, Moss and Stone all point out that the college is an ever- changing place, still only 50 years away from its decision to desegregate and even closer to its addition of women.

Robinson says, “Wofford has very meaningful traditions that are fun and make us who we are. It matters deeply to me that Wofford is a Methodist affiliated college.”

Robinson says that the college is committed to the parts of that Methodist af- filiation that are most important.

“The Methodist church has a strong commitment to higher education. The church stands for socio economic diversity and social justice, and we are committed to those things.”

Senior Donya Amer is a Muslim and a member of the Muslim Student Association. Amer says that she appreciates the opportunity for an alternate book.

“I think it is awesome. If anything, it makes us feel like we are important and we get to have a choice.”

While she appreciates the sentiment, Amer did not opt for the history book. “I knew what I was getting into when I was coming to Wofford, and I am also really big on tradition. If that’s part of the tradition then I think it would be really cool to have one.”

The decision to offer an alternate gift for graduating seniors represented a big change in the evolving history of Wofford traditions. Moss is happy to see the change finalized.

“Whether it’s two students or 25 students [who choose the alternative], it just shows students that we appreciate them and we are giving them the option. It is not removing the tradition but expanding on it.”

Early commencement program from 1857, courtesy of archivist Dr. Phillip Stone

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    John A. AdamsJan 14, 2016 at 11:43 pm

    That is a very bad decision. Why dont you just sign the Koran? Would it truly be wrong for a muslim or athiest to be exposed to the Bible?
    John Alec Adams 81