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Limestone honors three near-graduates
David Melbah Pewu 1 Web
Cecelia Pewu accepts an honorary degree from Limestone President Dr. Walt Griffin for her husband's efforts at Limestone College.

By Felicia Kitzmiller of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal

As hundreds of family members and friends of Limestone College's soon-to-be graduates wandered into Fullerton Auditorium Friday afternoon, Cecelia Pewu did not stand out.

She was dressed neatly and joined by her son, who stayed close by her side. The only hint of her bittersweet mission at the graduation ceremony was a family portrait clutched in her hand. The photo bore the faces of three people, one conspicuously absent.

Cecelia Pewu traveled from her home near Columbia to Gaffney to accept a degree that rightly belonged to her husband, though she said he always told her he was earning it for her anyway. David Pewu was 60 years old and less than a month away from completing his master's degree in criminal justice from Limestone when he died from a stroke on Oct. 25. Instead of David Pewu crossing the stage, Limestone officials handed Cecelia Pewu an honorary degree for her husband's efforts.

"He always would tell me he was getting the degree for me, but I didn't know what that meant," she said, and struggled to keep her voice level.

Pewu immigrated to the United States from Liberia in 1969. He attended Glassboro University in New Jersey where he received four bachelor's degrees. Cecelia Pewu said she didn't know what they were all for, but said one was in business administration and another in criminal justice.

In 1980, David Pewu continued the family tradition of military service and joined the U.S. Army where he worked in supply. He served in Germany, Korea and Fort Bragg, N.C., and rose to the rank of master sergeant. He retired one month short of 26 years of service.

Cecelia Pewu said her husband returned to school to get his master's degree because of a passion for knowledge.

"He's a person who liked education," she said. "All his life he was schooled."

When he graduated, David Pewu intended to return to Liberia to assist in organizing and restructuring the country's police force, which is still in disarray after years of civil turmoil, Cecelia Pewu said. He felt a calling to help people, she said.

David Pewu would talk returning to Liberia in class and joked about trying to convince Professor Jeff Tipton to go with him.

"He was very dedicated, a visionary," Tipton said of Pewu. "He knew where he wanted to be ... That made him really unique. The faculty and administration learned as much from Pewu as he did from us."

Limestone College awarded two other honorary degrees Friday for members of the December graduating class who passed away near the end of their course requirements.

Michael Baskin, 43, of Florence was studying business administration and accounting when he died Nov. 6. Shekelia Cooper-Nettles, 47, also of Florence, was studying social work when she died July 9.