As a little kid, perhaps 8 years old, I remember summer mornings really well. Before heading off to swimming lessons, we would watch a lineup of television shows on Nick Jr. that included Little Bear, Rupert, and Gullah Gullah Island. I enjoyed all three programs but the one that stood out was probably Gullah Gullah Island because it wasn’t animated and the main character wasn’t a bear (duh).
I forgot about the show for 20 years and then I moved to South Carolina. Not too far from Myrtle Beach is where the Gullah people have lived and thrived for hundreds of years. Because of Coastal Carolina University’s research of the Gullah culture and language, I have learned a lot more than what I initially knew from the television show.
But that is not to discount the show but rather to honor it. If not for watching Gullah Gullah Island more than two decades ago, I would have had no point of reference to the culture when I moved here. I quickly found out Ron Daise, known as “Mr. Ron” on the show, is a major pillar of this community and a respected ambassador of the Gullah Geechee culture. His day job entails educating the public, especially children, about Gullah heritage. In fact, Sidney has brought her class on field trips to Brookgreen Gardens to absorb cultural lessons from Ron, who serves as vice president for creative education.
Today it was my turn for a lesson!
Ron Daise delivered the commencement address at Coastal Carolina University’s fall graduation ceremonies. Because we had a ceremony in the afternoon and evening, I had the pleasure of listening to it twice!
As you can probably imagine, Ron went the creative route when it came to his speech. He gave the graduating students “Four Lessons From Songs of Gullah Gullah Island.” Each lesson, such as self-motivation or leadership, came with Ron singing a song from the show to exemplify the principle. He saved the best for last, telling students to “just put your foot in your hand,” a phrase that means to hurry up and not let the important things pass you by. At that moment, Ron busted out a complete remixed version of the Gullah Gullah theme song that substituted Coastal Carolina University in many of the lyrics (To go forth and be remembered, you must make the world better, when you become a CCU graduate!).
Ron’s address was energetic, nostalgic, and funny. After having worked numerous commencements and participated in a couple myself, I don’t think I have ever heard a more engaging speech. It was refreshing to hear something so original.
If you want to learn more about the Gullah Geechee culture, I encourage you to reference the Charles Joyner Institute for Gullah and African Diaspora Studies that is housed right here at Coastal Carolina University. Thank you for bringing your perspective to commencement, Ron. Don’t Blink.