Tigerville, SC (December 16, 2020) North Greenville University (NGU) held its traditional undergraduate commencement service on Friday, Dec. 11, in Turner Chapel on the NGU Campus. NGU’s Consultant for Public Affairs Professor Lisa Van Riper was the keynote speaker.
Van Riper joined NGU in 1989, serving as a political science instructor. In 1995, she became the University’s first director of its Honors Scholar Program. During her over two decades as the director, the program grew from 19 students to approximately 200 annual members. Graduates of the Honors Scholar Program have distinguished themselves in all professions, including ministry, medicine, education, media, music, law, and business. In 2017, Van Riper retired as director of the Honors Program to oversee public affairs for the University.
In attendance were members of the Van Riper family, US Representative Jeff Duncan, SC Lieutenant Governor Pamela Evette, SC House Representative District 24 Bruce Bannister, SC House Representative District 7 Mike Burns and wife Ann, former Representative Howell Clyborne, now Vice President for Community and Governmental Affairs at Prisma Health, as well as the Executive Director for SC Citizens for Life Holly Gatling.
The final guests introduced were the 117th Governor of South Carolina and NGU honorary graduate Henry McMaster and his wife, Peggy. They were present to assist President Fant and NGU First Lady in presenting Van Riper with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.
McMaster assisted President Fant in presenting the highest recognition that a university can award in recognition of her distinguished work in public policy and the dedication to the University's students, ideals, and engagement with both church and society. McMaster and President Fant robed and hooded Van Riper. NGU's First Lady, Lisa, placed the doctoral tam on her head as SC's First Lady handed her a flower bouquet.
"You mean I don't have to give 10 million dollars," Van Riper said about receiving the award. SC Representative Bannister and SC Representative Burns also made a presentation to Van Riper.
"You heard Lisa say, 'I didn't have to give 10 million to get this honorary doctorate.' Probably what she's done for this university is worth more than $10 million," said Representative Bannister. "Independently, the SC House and the SC Senate did resolutions honoring you for tonight. They didn't communicate, as normal, so we have two resolutions." U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham and U.S. Senator Tim Scott offered video greetings.
"As a humble representative of the over five million proud, happy South Carolinians tonight, Mrs. McMaster and I are honored to be at North Greenville University to honor one of the finest South Carolinians among us who has given guidance, advice, has taught younger people and older people and has made an enormous contribution to the prosperity, strength, and happiness in South Carolina. She is remarkable," said Governor McMaster.
Before Van Riper gave her address, she thanked the University for the honor.
"Thank you to all who were a part of this. There are not enough words to say thank you. This [recognition] is the greatest honor that I have ever received in my life. Short of being called a grandmother," said Van Riper. "It has been a pleasure to work at this university for three decades now and to be a part of a community that is Christ-centered and such a caring community. It reminds me of the town where I grew up."
Van Riper has five decades of experience and activity in public policymaking, either through teaching or direct public service at both the local and state level. She is a former member of the State Board of Education, where she represented the 13th Judicial Circuit. During her tenure, she served as chair of the curriculum committee, which oversaw state curriculum standards and textbooks. She also served 12 years as the gubernatorial appointee for both Governors Sanford and Haley for the South Carolina First Steps Program for School Readiness Board of Trustees. She served as secretary of the board and chair for the strategic planning and evaluation committee. During her service, the First Steps Program provided initiatives to help parents and local communities “ready” the children of South Carolina for school. Van Riper was particularly proud of the First Steps role in implementing and overseeing the program, which allowed parents of at-risk children to choose private childcare centers for 4K.
In addition to her board service, she served as the founding executive director for Governor and Mrs. Beasley’s Putting Families First Foundation. This welfare-reform initiative was a mentoring program designed to partner faith-based and non-profits with individuals transitioning from welfare to work. This foundation trained thousands of volunteers during its duration and assisted hundreds of individuals in their journeys to work. The mentoring program became a model for other states and was featured in Time magazine, on CBS Morning News, and in local newspapers and magazines across South Carolina. For this initiative, Van Riper was recognized with the distinguished service award by the National Governor’s Association and with the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina’s highest civilian service award by Governor David Beasley.
Van Riper has served in Greenville County on the boards of United Way, Community Planning Council, the Junior League, and the Martin Luther King Day Task Force of Greenville County Council. She is an active member at First Presbyterian Church in Greenville.
She is currently president of South Carolina Citizens for Life, where she is active in the legal protection of the unborn and innocent human life. During her tenure, she and her board have worked with the SC General Assembly to pass eight bills protecting women and their unborn children. In 2019, she received the Carroll Campbell Courage in Leadership Award, which was presented to her at the Greenville County Republican Convention.
A native of Springfield, Van Riper graduated from Hunter-Kinard High School, where she was valedictorian. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Furman University, graduating Magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. While at Furman, she served in student government and received the Babbs Award for Leadership. She completed her master’s in public administration at the University of South Carolina. She served on staff for Greenville County Council, where she worked in management and budget services, served as council liaison, and staffed the public safety committee. Before her work at North Greenville, Van Riper was an adjunct instructor in political science at now USC-Upstate.
Lisa and her husband, Donald, have two daughters and sons-in-law, and five grandchildren.
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