CLEMSON — Leslie Sanders will cap an extraordinary chapter in the Clemson “family” history when she graduates Aug. 5 with a materials science and engineering degree. She will be the last in a line of seven — yes, seven — brothers and sisters from the same family to earn a diploma from the venerable South Carolina institution.

The Sanders family in 2011 (from left to right): Patricia Sanders Merritt, Allison Sanders, Tom Sanders, Bill Sanders, Lisa Sanders Perini, Lindsey Sanders, Mac Sanders and Leslie Sanders.

The Sanders family in 2011 (from left to right): Patricia Sanders Merritt, Allison Sanders Green, Tom Sanders, Bill Sanders, Lisa Sanders Perini, Lindsey Sanders Calcutt, Mac Sanders and Leslie Sanders.
Image Credit: The Sanders family

Sanders had a leg up on her fellow classmates when she entered as a freshman in 2011, since four of her siblings — sisters Patricia, Allison and Lindsey and brother Mac — were still enrolled. They made a pretty good team to usher her into her college years, and indeed the five of them supported each other the way only siblings can.

“I already knew where most of the big buildings were. I knew my way around and had a lot of background on Clemson. My roommate had no idea about a lot of that,” Leslie said at the time. “They told me where everything is, the things I need to take care of, such as financial aid and parking and other things I need to know to get by.”

The siblings also helped each other by sharing books, making recommendations on certain classes or professors, helping one another with homework and even living together.

The five Sanders Tigers followed in the footsteps of their two older siblings: Lisa Sanders Perini, who earned a degree in administrative management in 1984, and Tom, who graduated in 1994 with a degree in chemical engineering.

This Clemson legacy began with patriarch William “Bill” Thomas Sanders, a Clemson Class of 1961 alumnus, who loved his alma mater dearly but never pressured his children to attend. They caught the spirit anyway, either through each other or sheer osmosis.

Sadly, Bill passed away in 2013, but the family has no doubt he will be with his seventh and last child as she receives her Clemson degree.

Leslie Sanders

Leslie Sanders
Image Credit: Emerson Iris Photography

“My father was ecstatic that we all chose Clemson University to attend college,” said Leslie. “I would give anything to see the smile on my dad’s face on my graduation day, but I will proudly wear his 1961 Clemson A&M College Ring around my neck when I walk across the stage.”

Shirley Kennedy, Bill’s widow and mother of the five youngest kids, said her late husband’s presence is never absent when the family is together.

“Though we all miss him, he is still with us in Clemson spirit,” she said.

“Our family has carried on the passion that our dad had for the university. It’s more than just a university to us,” Leslie explained. “There was no hesitation about where my siblings and I wanted to go to school after growing up as ‘tigers.’”

Despite the unusual number of Sanders family members who have attended Clemson, the university has made more of an impact on them than they have on it, Leslie said.

“One thing I didn’t know before my dad passed was how much of an impact Clemson would make on my family altogether,” she said. “We tailgate together, travel for Clemson events together, have summers on the lake and the list goes on. Three of our family dogs are even named after Clemson landmarks: Cooper, Tillman and Walker. All of us have started our careers and live within two hours of Clemson (except Lisa in Texas), and more than half of us have met our significant others here.”

In fact, taking into account fiancés and spouses, there are a staggering 15 Clemson alumni in the immediate family… so far.

The absence of a Sanders on campus for the first time in 13 years will leave a gap, but chances are — sometime in the not-so-distant future — a new generation of Sanders will make their way into the Clemson ‘family.’

The Sanders family’s Clemson alumni:

  • William “Bill” Thomas Sanders, Class of 1961, mechanical engineering
  • Jack Sanders (Bill’s brother), Class of 1954, dairy and dairy manufacturing
  • Lisa Sanders Perini, Class of 1984, administrative management
  • Tom Sanders, Class of 1994, chemical engineering
  • Laurie Townsend-Sanders (Tom’s wife), Class of 1994, biological sciences
  • Lindsey Sanders Calcutt, Class of 2008, biosystems engineering, Class of 2015, Ph.D. in engineering
  • Stephen Calcutt (Lindsey’s husband), Class of 2013, business management
  • Mac Sanders, Class of 2012, mechanical engineering
  • Elizabeth Ray Sanders (Mac’s wife), Class of 2011, parks, recreation and tourism management
  • Allison Sanders Green, Class of 2012, nursing
  • Keaton Green (Allison’s husband), Class of 2008, construction science management
  • Patricia Sanders Merritt, Class of 2014, materials science and engineering
  • Dustin Merritt (Patricia’s husband), Class of 2015, packaging science
  • Leslie Sanders, Class of 2016, materials science and engineering
  • Drew Turner (Leslie’s fiancé), Class of 2008, construction science management