Celebration as College of Pharmacy moves important step closer to shifting to heart of campus

February 02, 2022
Construction workers place beam in topping out ceremony for the College of Pharmacy.
Construction workers get ready to place the last beam atop the new home of the College of Pharmacy in what's called a "topping out" ceremony. Work on the site is expected to end this August. Photos by Sarah Pack

James Hodges made history at the Medical University of South Carolina more than five decades ago by becoming the College of Pharmacy’s first Black graduate. He recently witnessed another milestone for the college: the “topping out” ceremony marking the placement of the highest beam on the pharmacy school’s new facility. It’s under construction in the heart of the MUSC campus.

“I think if anyone is still living and able to come, they should come. This will never happen again. Not for me, anyway,” the retired pharmacist said.

College of Pharmacy graduate James Hodges talks with MUSC President David Cole and his wife, Kathy Cole. 
Retired pharmacist James Hodges talks with MUSC President David Cole, M.D., and Cole's wife Kathy at the topping out ceremony.

Hodges was one of dozens of people who turned out to watch as the beam, decorated with a small tree and an American flag, was hoisted atop the site. It was a symbolic moment for a college ready to shift from an 80-year-old building on Calhoun Street, on the fringe of the MUSC campus, to a new location closer to its practice pharmacy and the Drug Discovery Building, where pharmacy research takes place.

Before the beam was hoisted, so many people wanted to sign it that College of Pharmacy Dean Philip Hall cracked a joke about it. “Like the guys in ‘Jaws’ said, ‘We're going to need a bigger beam,’” he said, to appreciative laughter from the audience.

Then, he got serious. “What a wonderful problem to have. This beam symbolizes our people.We wanted to connect the physical facility to the people who made it possible and to the people who make MUSC pharmacy programs so special. Our alumni, our donors, friends, family, faculty, students, staff are all represented on this beam.  And they will always be there as the strength and structure of the building."

College of Pharmacy dean Philip Hall speaks at topping out ceremony. 
College of Pharmacy Dean Philip Hall joked that so many people wanted to sign the beam that they needed a bigger one to accommodate them all.

The new space will cover 24,000 square feet and is part of a larger $58 million construction project that includes a total renovation of the Colbert Library and Education Building as well as renovations to the large basic science shared classrooms and auditorium to provide state-of-the-art learning environments for students across all colleges. Construction started in April 2021. It’s expected to end this August. 

MUSC President David Cole, M.D., called the pharmacy students who will use the site among the best and brightest in the country. “They deserve to have the best facilities that have the best learning opportunity to meet the future. This facility elevates our future together.”

Provost Lisa Saladin, Ph.D., said the ceremony marked a transition and symbolized growth and opportunity for the College of Pharmacy. “And while there is a long way to go, this is a moment to celebrate and to savor.”

Terry Blackmon, chairman of the Building Leadership Committee and a 1980 graduate of the College of Pharmacy, addressed the meaning behind the topping out. “Today's ceremony is a ritual that dates back hundreds of years. In the eighth century, Scandinavians used to place bundles of grain on top of newly built structures. Eventually, it became common to place a tree at the top,” he said. 

Beam with signatures on it. Audience at topping out ceremony is behind it. 
The signatures of students and alumni on the beam that now rests on top of the new College of Pharmacy.

“There are many theories about the origin of this tradition. It may have been to appease the tree spirits or to seek the blessings of the forest gods to ensure fertility of the land and of the home or to show humility before nature by elevating it above the highest manmade point or to make an analogy between the raising of a building and the growing of a tree.”

He noted that the College of Pharmacy has a tradition of its own: educating pharmacists for more than a century. 

Hodges is proud to be one of them and pleased to be part of such an important moment for his alma mater. “I can say I was present. I was there. I witnessed it.”