Commencement Exercises May 2015

Welcome again! It’s wonderful to be with you on this wonderful spring day. (This class has been favored with good weather.)  Class of 2015, we meet together, for one last time, to celebrate the end of one glorious cycle and the beginning of another.  

I’ve met or eaten with…high-fived or “selfied”… with quite a few of you, but I don’t recognize you, right now, without your t-shirts, shorts and sandals, but I’m sure that some of you are wearing these things under your robes! (Is that true for some of you?) 

You do look great in your caps and gowns. That tradition by the way, came from the 12th century as European universities were in the early stages of formation. Early scholars began to wear long robes with a hood for warmth in their typically cold stone buildings in Germany, Italy and elsewhere.  Later the robes or “gowns” became the official dress of academics. 

Way before that, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who was born in 535 BC, wrote, “No one ever steps into the same river twice.”  Of course, he didn’t mean that literally, you can step into a river twice. What he meant was that the river is changing all the time, so that it won’t be the same river, the next time. That’s about to happen to you and your alma mater, graduates.

USC will never look or feel quite the same to you as it did before today. It’s not that the campus landscape will change so quickly, although that’s true enough. 

There will be new student residence halls like 650 Lincoln, and renovated classroom buildings like the former Moore School of Business, and a new home for the College of Mass Communications and Information Sciences (and a new name by the way, it will be the College of Information and Communications). 

And there will be a new home for the College of Social Work in Hamilton. Soon enough there will be a new School of Law too, and a new plaza and statue of George Rogers at William-Brice Stadium and a bold new Alumni Center for you. 

But I didn’t mention the philosopher’s observation about the river to imply that the university’s future will be different.  I meant that your university will not look or feel the same to you because you will be different. You will never again be an undergraduate or a master’s degree student so you’ll have a new perspective on lots of things. One of those is work.  Students often wish they could have a job so they won’t have to study; workers wish they could go back to school so they won’t have to work! Once you leave here today, it will be like putting on a pair of new sunglasses.  Things will simply look and feel different to you. 

You’ll walk by places like the Russell House, Thomas Cooper Library, Gambrell, Stone Stadium,  the Colonial Life Arena, the Greek Village…and, at first they will look a tad different, but on Homecoming Weekends years from now, they will look and feel quite different. 

Have you ever returned to a house you once lived in when you were a child? Or maybe it was a grandparent’s house. It looks different now doesn’t it? Usually smaller.

Psychologists attribute this phenomenon to nostalgia. We all know that word, and it’s derived from the Greek nostos (return) and algos (pain). In other words, a longing for a golden age, the “good old days,” or the innocence of one’s youth. It is memory clouded by longing.

So nostalgia will make USC appear different to you in the years to come. And graduates, you will look different to us too.  It’s not that you will really look that different right away…not grey hair just yet…And it’s not that you might dress a bit differently, but you probably will when you return, I know that I won’t see you in a sweatshirt and pajama bottoms like I saw some of you on your way to an early morning class. 

It’s not even that some of you will be wearing your alumni ring.  It’s more that you will act differently; carry yourselves differently.  I would say steadier, more confident, more…well, let’s call it more Cocky! 

So graduates, things will look and feel different, as they should, because while at Carolina, you’ve changed a lot. And although you would have changed regardless of which university you had chosen, you are the person you are today, in good measure, because you chose the University of South Carolina. And we took your education and personal development extremely seriously.  

You barely resemble the incoming freshman or transfer student we met when you first arrived. 

And I know that putting your cap and gown on today may have felt a little weird (especially getting the cap to fit just right, and the tassel to fall exactly so…that’s not easy.)  But actually, it will be weirder, and you will change even more…when you take the cap and gown off…in a short while, and I predict it will be hard for some of you. 

To ease this transition, I urge you to take one more walk across the Horseshoe today or tomorrow to reflect on your college experience. Bring your friends and family.  Just take off your cap and gown, put your t-shirts, sandals, shorts, and new sunglasses on and, walk on over.

When you come back to see us, often I hope, you won’t look exactly the same to us, but we will recognize you; we will respect you; and we will love you forever, as our graduates, as our alumni, and as our family.  From every one of our campuses, united, we will be Carolinians.  Forever to Thee. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, let’s reserve our wildest cheers for somewhat over an hour from now, but let’s acknowledge enthusiastically, right now, this amazing group of future leaders, who we clearly recognize now as the soon to be alumni of the University of South Carolina, the Class of 2015.