Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipients

Friday, May 12 - Saturday, May 13, 2023 

4 p.m. Friday, May 12, 2023, for the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Languages, Cultures, and World Affairs. 

Commencement Speaker: Cynthia P. May, Professor of Psychology

Honorary Degree Recipient: State Representative Leon Stavrinakis ’88 


10 a.m. Saturday, May 13, 2023, for the School of Business, School of Education, School of Health Sciences.

Commencement Speaker: Will Ward '93 founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based business development firm Forward Ventures

4 p.m. Saturday, May 13, 2023, for The Graduate School, School of the Arts, School of Sciences and Mathematics.

Commencement Speaker: Todd McNerney, professor of performance in the Department of Theatre and Dance


Cynthia P. May is a professor of psychology at the College of Charleston and the 2022 Distinguished Teaching Award recipient. A graduate of Furman University (B.A., 1990) and Duke University (Ph.D., 1995), May joined the College of Charleston in 1999 after teaching at the University of Arizona. She specializes in human memory, aging and disability, and teaches a variety of courses including introductory level courses in general psychology and cognition as well as upper level and laboratory courses in human memory and applied cognition. She co-authors a teaching column for the Association for Psychological Science and her publications include work on innovations in pedagogy.

May’s research is broadly focused on understanding human memory and cognition, with a specific aim of improving outcomes for individuals who experience cognitive challenges, including older adults and individuals with intellectual disability. Her publications include basic science research on circadian arousal, inhibitory processes in attention, flashbulb memory, and prospective memory, as well as applied work on inclusive education and disability in the workplace. May was named a Fellow for the Association for Psychological Science in 2016 and has been a regular contributor to Scientific American.

May is a passionate advocate for initiatives that offer access and opportunity to people with intellectual disabilities. She helped develop inclusive educational programs across the country, including the REACH Program at the College of Charleston, and received a $2.5 million grant from the U.S Department of Education to advance inclusive initiatives on campus and across the Lowcountry. She was appointed by South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster to serve on the Disability Rights South Carolina Board of Directors and serves on the National Accreditation Team for Inclusive Postsecondary Education. She is a recent graduate of the Diversity Leadership Initiative at the Riley Institute of Furman University and is part of the team that will launch the Hidden Disability Sunflower Program on campus this fall.

Todd McNerney is an associate dean of the School of the Arts and a professor of performance in the Department of Theatre and Dance. He served as the department’s Chair from 2005 until 2014. In that time, he successfully led the department to its initial accreditation by the National Association of Schools of Theatre in 2008 and its subsequent re-accreditation in 2014. He served the College as Speaker of the Faculty from 2014 to 2017. In his nearly 35-year career in the theatre he has directed and/or acted in over 100 productions. He has worked professionally on both coasts in theatre, film and industrials. He is an active member of the department’s production program, directing productions of The House of Blue Leaves, On the Verge, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Take Me OutSpring Awakening and RENT among others. McNerney is committed to the development of new plays for the department and has directed multiple original student works including the KC/ACTF winning The Mind’s I and Bread and Circuses. 

Additionally, over the last eight years, he has annually directed staged readings of the runner-up and winning plays of a national contest created in his honor as part of Piccolo Spoleto. In the summer of 2016, he spent six weeks as a guest artist/director at the nationally recognized Hollins University Playwright’s Lab, a low residency MFA program in playwriting.

McNerney is also a co-founder of The Shakespeare Project, a former summer component of the department, which occurred between 1997 and 2013 and produced two productions of Shakepeare’s works each year.

Will Ward '93 majored in business and minored in Japanese at the College, and started his career in a talent agency’s mailroom and then became an agent trainee in the music department of the prestigious talent agency, Creative Artists Agency (CAA), under Hollywood’s most powerful agent, Michael Ovitz. 

From there, he was recruited by Endeavor’s CEO and super-agent Ari Emanuel (the real version of HBO’s Entourage’s Ari Gold) to be a Motion Picture Talent trainee. Will became Endeavor’s fastest-promoted trainee as he rose to motion picture talent agent within just one year. There, he started representing Adam Sandler, David Spade, Dustin Hoffman, Mark Wahlberg,and Ryan Reynolds, to name but a few. After three years, Ward left Endeavor to start a management/production company, ROAR. While at ROAR, Will signed and built the careers of such talents as Chris Hemsworth (ThorRushExtraction), Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother), Oscar-nominated Ken Watanabe (The Last SamuraiInception) and Aisha Tyler (The TalkFriendsArcher). Ward also signed and built the careers of major music acts, including Zac Brown Band. In 2010, Ward launched Zac Brown Band’s Southern Ground Music and Food Festival in Charleston.

In April 2018, after building ROAR into one of Hollywood’s most powerful and innovative management firms, Ward went out on his own to found Fourward, a global management, production, and business development company with offices in Los Angeles, Nashville, New York and Melbourne. As CEO at Fourward, Ward has recently shifted his focus toward deals in Fourward’s Corporate Division. Fourward’s first corporate deal involved building a partnership between Fourward, Chris Hemsworth, and one of the largest private equity firms in the world, Quadrant Private Equity, to roll up 600 gyms in Southeast Asia. Additionally, in partnership with Quadrant, Ward and Hemsworth launched Centr, widely considered to be one of the most successful fitness apps on the market today.



» Want to nominate a future commencement speaker? Or view the list of previous honorary degree receipients? Visit the Committee on Commencement Speakers and Honorary Degree Recipients webpage.