October 30, 2019
Tommy Harrell, an alumnus and long-time friend of the South Carolina School of the Arts at Anderson University, is an educational administrator, entrepreneur, writer and father who currently calls New Jersey home.
When Harrell came to Anderson about 30 years ago, things looked a little different around campus. The G. Ross Anderson Jr. Student Center and Boulevard Residence Halls didn’t exist. The student body was smaller. Perhaps the most significant difference is Anderson was a two-year college—Anderson College.
Although Anderson has rapidly grown since the 1980s, the supportive Christian community that Harrell experienced hasn’t changed—a community that stretched his mind and prepared him for success.
“What I’ve been able to accomplish with the impression that Anderson … left on me in two years, I think I would be a miracle worker if I had four years,” Harrell said. “That’s the kind of impression and that’s the kind of gifts and empowerment that Anderson and my professors, friends and brotherhood there gave to me.”
He coins himself a multitasker—a skill he learned at Anderson. Harrell came to Anderson on a baseball scholarship and earned a degree in fashion merchandising. During his time as a student, Harrell was on student government, won the Ivy Leaves Journal of Literature and Art award two years in a row and starred in two plays. In 1988, he was named the first African American Student Government Association president in Anderson’s history.
Being busy is nothing new to Harrell, and he attributes his diverse skill set to the arts.
“The arts give you openness that a lot of other studies and disciplines don’t give you,” Harrell said. “The arts made me into the person I am today. I am able to analyze and think on a dime.”
Recognizing how formative his time at Anderson was, Harrell continues to give back to AU. He serves on the alumni board, and last year he gave $10,000 to create the Tommy Harrell Endowed Scholarship in honor of Mary and Anne Martin, Sarah Sprague and Denise Oxford—professors who had a profound impact on his life.
“I gave an award under them because these were some of my favorite professors who went above and beyond for me when I was a kid,” Harrell said. “They left a massive impression on me.”
“Tommy has a great history with Anderson University, and Anderson University has a great history because of people like Tommy,” said Jason Rutland, associate vice president for alumni and parent engagement.“He not only speaks fondly of his time here, but uses his connections, influence, time and resources to make sure that others experience the type of impact that Anderson can create.”
The scholarship is not exclusive to the South Carolina School of the Arts, but Harrell plans for the scholarship to be awarded to an Anderson University student who thinks creatively and multitasks, like his professors at Anderson modeled for him, and like he has continued to do in his life and career.
“The arts puts a little flavor into everything you do. It gives you the creativity and confidence to excel. It allows you to embrace every person that comes into your path” Harrell said.
Harrell believes in the South Carolina School of the Arts and the future of students of the arts, and he continually encourages others to consider giving to the art community—especially as year-end giving approaches.
“Students have a difficult time for paying for education often, and they are designing their lives to be an artist, to give back to the world,” Harrell said. “I tell everyone to give their philanthropy to students of the arts because they need it more than ever.”
Harrell said he hopes the South Carolina School of the Arts will leave its stamp not only locally, but also on the world. He said it is wonderful to see a Christian university embrace and love the arts as much as Anderson, and he is excited for the South Carolina School of the Arts to continue growing.
He said his future giving will focus on establishing Anderson University on the map. In the coming year, Harrell plans to give additional gifts to give back to some of his professors and the people who shaped him into the man he is today.
“There is a special connection between our patrons and friends in the programs they support. We couldn’t do the work that we do without friends of the arts,” Dean of the South Carolina School of the Arts Dr. David Larson said. “And I want to encourage alumni, friends of the institution, patrons of the South Carolina School of the Arts, to join us as a friend of art and design, theatre and dance and music”
If you would like to make a donation to the South Carolina School of the Arts, please contact David Larson at DLarson@andersonuniversity.edu.