Clemson senior Thomas Marshall III shares his thoughts
with fellow members of the class of 2020

Dear Class of 2020,
When you walked into your last class before spring break, you never thought that that would be some of your last Clemson moments. The last time you would see that friend, the last time you would chat with your favorite professor or the last time you would take a stroll across Library Bridge looking over the sparkling Reflection Pond.
The harsh reality is, it was. COVID-19, the coronavirus, or whatever you want to call it has turned our lives upside down. No, I’m not talking about the Upside Down, the creepy alternate universe in Stranger Things, but it sure feels like that some days. Our graduation ceremony has been postponed, and some of us have lost job offers, not knowing what is next for post-graduation plans. The reason it hurts so bad is that humans crave celebration. We need celebration and ceremony to gather, to mark milestones and to enjoy life. We love those end-of-the-year awards, those last functions where they honor the seniors — we love it all. Ceremonies make transitions easier for us. Well, we don’t have that luxury. But there is something we do have…

We have Clemson.

I know what you’re thinking: I have heard this before. I have seen and read every meme and post about the class of 2020, and whatever you say, Thomas, is not going to help.
Well, you are right. I cannot take back what has happened in our world or even begin to describe some of the feelings that we are all experiencing right now, but what I can do is talk about something that we all share and are forever indebted to.
Think back to the first time you stepped on campus. Those butterflies in your stomach when you were nervous about meeting your roommate, going to your first class, rushing that sorority or fraternity you always wanted to join. It was all scary. You were not ready for what was next, kind of like we are all feeling now. We do not know when life is going to go back to normal, or even go to our “new normal.”

But that is OK. We have Clemson.

For me, Clemson has changed my life. When I first entered campus, I was scared to death. Coming from a small high school, I was not ready for the 20,000 students who walked the campus every day. I remember my first class at 8 a.m. where I didn’t say a word to anyone because of how scared I was. But I also remember a feeling that I could not describe. Even though Clemson was a challenge and I was scared about sticking it out, I did. I got involved. I applied for things I never thought I would get. I put myself out there, and I stay committed to those rolling hills no matter how bad my calves hurt.
Clemson was not always easy for any of us. We have all loved and enjoyed our time here, but there have always been challenges. Long nights in Cooper, homesickness and times where you felt like you did not know where to go. But as Clemson taught us, we weathered the storm. We made it through the trials and tribulations and came out stronger. Now I know this challenge is even bigger. More daunting. Something we have never even dealt with before. But in my heart, I know we are up for the task.
Even though we will not be walking across the stage in May, we will be walking into a new stage of life. Every tiger has its stripes, and we have ours. We have the greatest university behind us, and when things get back to normal, a place we can always come home to.

We have Clemson.

So Class of 2020, don’t think of this time as something we cannot get through. Clemson has taught us to have grit, determination and a spirit of excellence. Let’s stay the course — and as always, be All In.


Thomas Marshall III ’20

Thomas Marshall III ’20 will be  attending graduate school for higher education in the fall or working in the field of political communications.

7 replies
  1. Kenneth Wrenn
    Kenneth Wrenn says:

    Well stated, Thomas Marshall III ’20. We DO have Clemson, one of the greatest benefits of all, the Clemson family.
    Thank You, and Good Luck in our New Normal.

  2. Mrs. James R. FISTER (Bob,’58)
    Mrs. James R. FISTER (Bob,’58) says:

    I am BobbyFister’s widow, May. He loved Clemson greatly. Even after being drafted in his Sophomore year in the Army, he returned two years later, having met me, and spent a glowing three years on the Dean’s List at his beloved Clemson. We enjoyed that last year together, having married in 1957. Our first child was born three weeks before Graduation! As a civil engineer he worked in Greenville, Atlanta, Savannah, ending his career owning his own business accompanied by that same daughter, Anne Daniels, born in Clemson. She was Clemson’s 10,000 engineering graduate. Her sister Jane McNabb is also a Clemson grad and has flourished in the banking business. Our son Jimbo and daughter Sandra Cika (also a CU student) are big Tiger fans along with grandchildren . Thomas’s letter brought tears to my eyes and I’m sure many others!

  3. Dottie Schipper
    Dottie Schipper says:

    Beautiful post. Thank you for that personal and heartfelt letter. My experience at Clemson was in graduate school only, but you expressed every sentiment I felt, my 3 boys experienced, and now my 2 grandchildren must have also felt. This is indeed an experience that continues through generations . Well done Thomas Marshall.

  4. Joe H. Simpson,III
    Joe H. Simpson,III says:

    You have accurately described the feelings I had as a freshman in 1965! Some things seem to not change in 55 years. Even though I was the third generation to attend Clemson, I was awed by the people, classes and professors. But, I was at CLEMSON!! What could be better? My daughter, Laurie, graduated from Clemson; and this fall, my grandson, Jack will start his Clemson adventure. I hope his memories will mirror ours.

  5. Frank J. Cox
    Frank J. Cox says:

    That gentleman sitting on the bench in Walter Cox Plaza would be proud of Clemson men and women – staff and faculty, but mostly, he would be beaming at the Class of 2020 – what a class of achievers and doers in spite of a blow to the solar plexus chakra. Thanks Thomas for the letter to all of us not just you 2020’ers. Proud son! GO TIGERS!!


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *