The South Carolina College of Pharmacy offered its incoming class a double dose of inspiration during White Coat Ceremony events at both the University of South Carolina (USC) and Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) campuses.

The Class of 2019 at USC was welcomed by keynote speaker Nikko Ware, a former Rite Aid Community Leader of the Year and 2012 pharmacy graduate from USC who is currently pharmacy manager at Rite Aid in Spartanburg, S.C. The MUSC keynote speaker was Maurice Lee, a 2004 pharmacy graduate from MUSC who became Eutawville’s first African-American pharmacist and is currently pharmacy manager at Walgreens in Orangeburg, S.C.

Both men come from single parent homes in small towns and overcame challenging economic backgrounds to become successful pharmacists and meaningful role models in their communities.

The USC White Coat Ceremony took place August 17 at Koger Center for the Arts in Columbia, S.C. The MUSC White Coat Ceremony was August 19 at the Drug Discovery Building on the MUSC campus in Charleston, S.C.

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A native of Rome, Ga., Ware moved to Spartanburg, S.C. at the age of nine with his mother and brother. By the age of 12 he had decided that he wanted to become a pharmacist and break a family pattern of not attending college.

“I decided on pharmacy because my mom was always sick and had to attend local pharmacies frequently,” Ware said. “I also had an influential shadowing experience through the Boys and Girls Club with the now late Bruce Cash, owner of Ford’s Drug store in Spartanburg.”

Ware was valedictorian of his junior high school and finished in the top three percent at Spartanburg High School. He was offered a full ride at Duke University but turned it down to take care of his sister at home. He enrolled in Wofford College where he was a Wofford Scholar and a Palmetto Scholar and made the Dean’s List during his pre-pharmacy studies.

At USC, he was a Plough Scholar, on the President’s List or Dean’s List each year and was inducted into the Rho Chi Society, the national academic honor society in pharmacy, in 2011. That same year he was the president of the USC chapter of the Student National Pharmacy Association, which he guided from obscurity to sustained national prominence. The chapter won the 2011 Chanucey Cooper Excellence Small Chapter of the Year Award, and Ware himself was awarded the Rite Aid Community Leader of the Year and won a Walgreen’s scholarship.

The USC chapter of SNPhA was featured in the February/March 2012 issue of Signatura, SNPhA’s national magazine, and chapter members featured in the SCETV program “HIV, AIDS and Faith.” The chapter helped the South Carolina HIV/AIDS Council register patients to get tested, and Ware and others were profiled. The chapter has subsequently won a second Cooper Excellence Award.

After joining Rite Aid, Ware helped grow scripts by four percent, beat a previously unmet immunization goal by 150 percent, and was promoted to pharmacy manager before the end of a year. Ware’s store continutes to excel in beating store goals for scripts and immunization, in which it led the district last year. Ware himself has won the patient-voted award as pharmacy favorite team member his first two years as a pharmacist and is currently in leadership training with an eye on his next level of leadership, which will be pharmacy district manager.

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Maurice Lee, pharmacy manager for a Walgreens in Orangeburg, credits his community with his own success and started working to repay that gift as soon as he moved back to town. 

“Coming up, I really thought we were rich, because I never went for lacking,” he said. “It really wasn’t until high school that I realized we weren’t as rich as I thought. I was always filled with and surrounded by lots of love and people who spoke things into my life that made me believe I could do anything.”

In reality Dr. Lee’s mother, a single parent, worked three jobs. He used to get up at 4 a.m. to deliver newspapers with her, before she dropped him off with his grandmother and then headed on to her next job as a teacher’s assistant – or working at a lawnmower manufacturing plant when school was out for the summer. After coming home for a few hours and making dinner, she left for an evening shift at a local restaurant. 

After becoming a pharmacist, Lee established the M.A. Lee Scholarship Fund to help local kids and this summer, for the 10th anniversary, he expanded the gala supporting it to a four-day events with a guest list including artists, athletes and entertainers from New York and Los Angeles.

The gala was reflective of Lee’s high-profile life. In 2008, he was honored by the Orangeburg Chapter of Links, Inc for outstanding services provided to the youth throughout the community. He was also featured as one of Essence Magazine’s 2008 Do Right Men. He has been featured in a KRAVE Magazine spotlight on “Movers & Shakers” and in How We Live Magazine. He also appeared in Tyler Perry’s "Meet the Browns" and in  the movie "Stomp the Yard 2: Homecoming.” In 2011, he published the book “Life Experiences.”  

He chose MUSC for pharmacy school, because he was born at Medical University Hospital. He chose his career after working at the family health center pharmacy in Orangeburg in college.

“I just liked working with people,” he said. “As a pharmacist, when you make people feel comfortable with you, they are willing to share what’s going on, and that makes it easier to counsel them and provide the best health care possible.”