Coker College Celebrates 109th Spring Commencement

Additional Menu

Hartsville, S.C. – May 15, 2017  –  On the morning of Saturday, May 13, 2017, during its 109th spring commencement ceremony, Coker College conferred bachelor’s degrees on 155 graduates and master’s degrees on 24 graduates.

“Graduates, as you take these next few steps across the stage, know that we appreciate the gifts you’ve shared with us and we are honored to have shared your experiences,” said Coker College President Robert Wyatt.

The ceremony was held at 8:00 a.m. in the Harris E. and Louise H. DeLoach Center. Richard A. Puffer, Executive Director of the Byerly Foundation and professor emeritus of communication at Coker College (2000-2016), presented the commencement address and received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree.  

Puffer urged graduates to think beyond just their own personal attainment. “Today, I’m urging you to do a lot more,” he said. “I’m urging you to mindfully engage in building a better world...Our world needs reengagement to be a real trend because to have a better world, we need more people like you who will look outward to see what ways they can work to shape this better world. It’s not easy, but it is doable.”

Puffer is the executive director of the Byerly Foundation (2000-present), a nonprofit organization whose mission is to serve as a catalyst for change by working with public and private interests to improve educational, economic and social outcomes for the citizens of Hartsville, S.C. Prior to teaching at Coker and working with the Byerly Foundation, he worked in corporate communications at Sonoco for nearly 20 years.  

Originally from Rome, New York, Puffer is a Vietnam veteran, having served as an officer with the United States Marine Corps following his graduation from the State University of New York (SUNY) Cortland in 1968. He went on to earn a master’s degree in mass communication from the University of South Carolina in 1977. He has been a resident of Hartsville since 1973 when he came to the community to work for the Hartsville Messenger, where he held the positions of reporter, photographer and news editor.

Puffer has been an active member of the Hartsville community, serving as chairman of the board of the Greater Hartsville Chamber of Commerce and as a board member for Hartsville United Way. He has been an elected member and chairman of the Darlington County school board. Puffer has been recognized as Hartsville Citizen of the Year by the Hartsville Rotary Club, as well as Master Professor by the Coker College student body.

His role as a Hartsville mover-and-shaker was perhaps most prevalent during his time chairing the steering committee for the Hartsville 2020 comprehensive plan, adopted by the Hartsville city council in 2008. In that role, Puffer spent countless hours interviewing and surveying residents, meeting with community organizations, churches, business owners, property owners and elected officials to record their visions for Hartsville. His work inspired a plan for Hartsville, resulting in the city we know and enjoy today--rich with activity, marked by phenomenal growth and a thriving downtown business district.

As executive director of the Byerly Foundation, Puffer dedicates his efforts to community causes like education, economic development and quality of life. He can usually be found serving the people of Hartsville, working in the trenches with the many organization supported by the Byerly Foundation. He lives in Hartsville with his wife Sylvia, a Coker alumna, and has two daughters, Eve and Inga.

Student Government Association president Jamez Malik Taylor ‘17 presented the 2017 Master Professor of the Year award to Phyllis Fields, professor of theater. Taylor Gaskins ‘17 delivered an address as a representative of the class of 2017, Christopher Lopez Moore ‘17 performed the national anthem and Breanna Marie Barfield ‘17 performed the Coker College alma mater.



Coker College is a student-focused, private liberal arts college located in Hartsville, South Carolina. Coker combines round table, discussion-based learning with hands-on experiences to encourage active participation in and out of the classroom. A supportive, close-knit community prepares Coker students with the confidence and practical life skills they need to reach their personal best, in college and beyond.

Founded in 1908, Coker is a bachelor’s and master’s degree-granting institution and competes in 24 NCAA Division II sports. Coker is ranked among the "Best Colleges" in the South by U.S. News & World Report as well as The Princeton Review, and by Washington Monthly as one of the Southeast's "Best Bang for the Buck" colleges.