Excused Absence

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Civil War veteran Osmond Alexander Wiley awarded posthumous diploma.

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By Stacey Schmeidel

This past spring , Davidson presented diplomas to 436 members of the Class of 2011—and one member of the Class of 1861.

Osmond Alexander Wylie, the 1861 graduate, grew up in Chester, S.C., and enrolled at Davidson in 1857. He was just a few weeks shy of graduation when word came that shots had been fired at Ft. Sumter. Over the next few weeks all members of the senior and junior classes left Davidson to join the Lost Cause. Wylie fought with the Confederate army for four years, then returned to his hometown. He died on his 67th birthday.

In heeding the call of duty, Wylie and his classmates had, technically, failed out of Davidson because they had missed their final exams. But the Davidson trustees voted to graduate the men in spite of their absences. According to Board minutes, “The Senior Class at the time of the dispersion had nearly completed their Advance Studies, and were on the eve of commencing the review preparatory to their final examination. The grade of Scholarship of the entire Class was above the usual average….In view of this fact, and also of the circumstances under which they left the Institution, the Faculty recommend that the Trustees waive the requirement as to the Final Examination and authorize them to grant diplomas declaratory of the degree of Bachelor of Arts to all the members of the class.”

On April 8, 2011, the 175th anniversary of Wylie’s birth, the fallen soldier’s great grandson, Daniel L. Anderson, wrote to then President John Kuykendall, asking the college to provide a diploma for “this faithful son of the South and Davidson College.”

Kuykendall agreed immediately, of course. “I never dreamed it would be my privilege to sign diplomas for Davidson graduates from three different centuries,” he said.

Registrar Hansford Epes ’61 says it’s not unusual for the college to provide diplomas to graduates who have misplaced or damaged theirs. But Epes doesn’t recall ever presenting a diploma to a graduate from the 19th century.

Anderson says receiving his greatgrandfather’s diploma was “surprisingly emotional.” He added, “I could feel my great grandfather, my grandfather, and my dear mother cheering.”

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