2015 New Student Convocation

Good Afternoon!  

I have one very important question, and this is likely to be the same question I ask you when you are assembled in caps and gowns at your graduation, do we have any Gamecocks in the arena today?

That’s a definite YES!  Welcome class of 2019!

I’m honored to be with all of you, the class of 2019. The best qualified and most capable freshman class in our history, and our very capable transfer students as well.  I’m honored that USC was the university of choice for you and your families.

Your years at USC will influence so many things, your internships; your major; whether or not you study abroad; your professional network; and, surely, your career path. Just as surely, USC will be a major factor in determining your lifelong friends.

Along with the exceptional academic leaders seated behind me, I’ll work very hard to deliver on the promises we made to you as you were making your decision about where to attend college.  Not to add any pressure, but I would say that your decision about where to go to college was one of the most important decisions of your life, not only of your life until now, but of your entire life.

Your years at USC will influence so many things, your internships; your major; whether or not you study abroad; your professional network; and, surely, your career path. Just as surely, USC will be a major factor in determining your lifelong friends.  In fact, as you look around this arena, some of you may even have a future best friend, a Best Man or a Maid of Honor in this room, someone you have not yet met.

And if that’s not scary or strange enough, some of you will meet your life partner at USC and he or she may be seated right here, as part of the Class of 2019, although, again, you wouldn’t know who that is at this moment. Maybe you will meet tomorrow as we convene again to discuss, “Where’d you go Bernadette.”  Wow.  Patricia and I met, by the way, on her very first day of graduate school in Public Health.  It was a day like this, like Freshman Convocation.  It was a very good day, at least for me!

But as profound an impact that each of these possibilities may have on your lives, we are going to work hard on not only where you go in life, or who you go with, but on who you become. I’m interested in your continued character development, in your leadership capacity, and in your values.  We will all work very hard on these traits, just as your families have done during your entire lives up to this moment.

And if your families, friends, mentors, and now your university have been a good tag-team, this is how it will turn out: You will graduate in 2019, (or sooner – sooner is quite okay). You will graduate ready to lead; to engage in civic and professional affairs; to provide community service; to be a mentor to others; to be compassionate and generous of spirit; and to always, always vote in local and national elections. 

That is my hope and my plan for you. Oh, and did I say, to always, always root for the Gamecocks?

Parents and other family members let me also warmly welcome and congratulate you.  Patricia and I have experienced this life-changing moment on two separate occasions, with our daughter, Katharine, and with our son, Andrew.  We completely understand the bittersweet feelings that are in your hearts today.  There is a blending of wonder with great pride in knowing that your child is actually old enough and bright enough to attend this great university. And you may also be wondering what it will be like at home with your son or daughter away. Here’s the answer; it will be quieter.  Enjoy it!   Please give them room to explore and negotiate on their own. They need to learn that as well.  (Besides, they’ll most likely be home for Thanksgiving dinner, and ask them to leave their laundry at school.)

 Here are some fun facts about the class of 2019:

  • 5,210 freshmen.  55% are female, 45% are male. (That’s a national trend.)
  • 21 sets of twins, 1 set of triplets.  Are the triplets here with us?
  • In the Class of 2019, 45 states plus the District of Columbia are represented as are 35 countries including – Bolivia, Gabon, Mexico, Ukraine and Vietnam. (105 countries are represented in the entire undergraduate student body.)

Over the summer, restorative work began on the Rutledge building, which is located on the historic Horseshoe. In fact, it was the first building to be constructed at South Carolina College, the precursor to the University of South Carolina. The college was chartered on December 19, 1801, just 25 short years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the birth of our nation.  It was the same year that Thomas Jefferson became the third president of the United States.  In fact, it was Jefferson, a good friend of Thomas Cooper, the University’s second president, who spurred on the public college movement in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, inspiring state-supported colleges.  Your university, now in its third century, has a rich and interesting past.  

Finally, I have some advice for the class of 2019: It’s simple advice, really.

  • First and foremost, take care of your basic needs. It’s up to you to eat well in quantity and quality.  Remember that the foods you choose will have a big impact on your wellness and success. We have a strong partner in Sodexo food services, as they offer healthy dining choices as well as traditional ones on campus.  You’ll have a healthy variety of foods to enjoy.
  • Sleep well. Sleep deprivation is a common cause of mental fatigue, emotional duress, and even compromised immunity.  A good night’s sleep allows you to be at your best and I ask you to try to achieve eight hours as often as you can, but not in class.  
  • Our historic campus covers 450 acres and is home to approximately 8,000 trees – and also our beloved Horseshoe which, for the first time in decades, has been completely re-sod.  It is beautiful! Walking on campus in any season is a joyful, invigorating experience.  I encourage you to walk often and explore always.  If you need to take a break or want a quiet place to think, to play your guitar, violin or flute, (but maybe not your tuba), there are many gardens with fountains, flowers and shade trees waiting for you. 
  • There are over 450 clubs and organizations on campus.  You can join one or even form one. In the weeks ahead, as you are invited to join a club or attend an information session, I’m asking you to take some chances and walk outside of your comfort zone.
  • The cornerstone of this university is built on our outstanding faculty.  Take the time to get to know your professors. Visit them during their office hours and let them get to know you.  Emailing is not a substitute for a personal visit. 
  • Take the initiative to check in with your advisors frequently – they are key to scholarship opportunities, internships, study abroad semesters and graduating On Your Time.

The First lady and I look forward to meeting you, our new neighbors. We have the great privilege of living on the Horseshoe in the historic President’s House and will do our very best to meet and talk with each of you.  I ask that you meet us halfway, come to greet us when you see us on the Horseshoe or other spots on campus.  And I’m always ready for a selfie or two to post on my twitter account @HarrisPastides or on yours. 

In a few minutes, the class of 2019 will sing our beautiful alma mater for the first time. I never tire of hearing it. After our opening day home football game on September 12, you and I will sing it in Williams-Brice Stadium with the mighty Gamecocks football team, win or lose.  So, you’ll appreciate today’s practice. 

Mark Twain had some good advice when he said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” So do a lot, and do it safely and well. I wish you happiness, discovery, success, friendship, and lots of learning and growth.  I wish you four years (or less) of joy.

Good luck and Godspeed.