Convocation 2014

Do we have any Gamecocks in the arena today?!

That's what I thought! Welcome class of 2018!

Today begins an incredible adventure that will shape and form the rest of your lives. (And that is not an exaggeration.) I hope you had a great weekend already with move-in and First Night.

Look around! There is rich diversity in this freshman class. What you learn from your fellow students will be an important part of your overall education. You are surrounded by future engineers, researchers, writers, musicians, scientists, doctors, linguists, lawyers, journalists, actors, professors, attorneys and so much more.

And all of you, I hope, will be dreamers; dreamers who have boundless imagination and zeal for the future but who are also focused on your four year graduation and who won't be deterred in accomplishing that goal.

All of you, I hope, will be dreamers; dreamers who have boundless imagination and zeal for the future but who are also focused on your four year graduation and who won't be deterred in accomplishing that goal.

There is also an empty chair in the coliseum today that symbolizes a place in the freshman class reserved for several students who, because tragedy befell them and their families, could not be here.

I pledged to the mother of one of these students, Jonathan Taylor, that I would tell you how much he adored the University of South Carolina and that he looked forward to being with you today. He was in a tragic car accident earlier this summer and I hope that his spirit today will positively influence all of us to appreciate every moment as Taylor and others would have— as members of the Gamecock Nation.

Indeed, no matter what state or country you come from – today you are a citizen of the Gamecock Nation, class of 2018.

Here are a few of your class demographics: 54 percent of this class is women which is not unusual for freshmen classes at universities in the United States. We have one set of triplets and 19 sets of twins. (If you think you are seeing double or triple, you are!)

Your class is represented by 45 states plus the District of Columbia and 28 countries. Over the entire undergraduate student body, we have 50 states plus D.C., Guam and 105 countries represented.

You've been given a great opportunity and I give you my promise, as your president, that your experiences at Carolina will bring the world to your front door. But it's your responsibility to earn the success that awaits on the other side of that door. Every single one of you has earned the opportunity to be here. Let me restate that...every single one of you has earned the opportunity to be here, but your future success will also need to be earned. (Success and graduation accomplished in eight or fewer semesters.) It is not a no-brainer.

Parents and other family members let me 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 that there is a bittersweet element to it.

It's likely that you feel, as we did a few years ago, a tremendous sense of wonder and pride that your child is actually old enough to become a college student. (Where did the time go?) But also, you are feeling a little trepidation about a different home life. To that I would say—it will be quieter, enjoy it.

It's likely that if tears are shed at your departure today or tomorrow they will probably be yours. And while you will certainly be missed, I assure you that your sons and daughters are in a great place at a great time and are only a text message away. Most will be home in time for Thanksgiving dinner. To your chagrin, they won't stay long.

I enjoy sharing some historic facts at Convocation. You may not know that the University of South Carolina (South Carolina College as it was then called), founded in 1801, was based on Thomas Jefferson's concept of the importance of a public university and an educated society.

Thomas Cooper, Carolina's second president, was one of Jefferson's great friends and both men were ardent supporters of public higher education. But Jefferson isn't the only president who is part of USC's history.

In 1909, the first sitting U.S. President to visit Carolina was William Howard Taft. He actually drove right onto the Horseshoe, stopping at the original President's House to deliver a speech to several thousand students, faculty members and Columbians. An observer recorded that, "the quadrangle was handsomely decorated with U.S. flags and hundreds of bright streamers and variegated bunting."

Back in 1957, a young rising star, then Senator John F. Kennedy gave the commencement address. A copy of the Senator's speech is in our Caroliniana Library – and you can actually go read it for yourself. The Senator also slept at the President's House. He gave a great speech that he actually wrote the evening before as the speech prepared by his staff seemed policy heavy and inappropriate. In his speech, he urges graduates to enter into politics! Sorry, parents!

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan came to Carolina to receive an honorary degree (plus a USC sweatshirt and cap!) - 9,000 people were in attendance.
The third incumbent U.S. President to visit our beautiful campus was George W. Bush in 2003. He was the first commencement speaker to grace the newly opened Colonial Life Arena. (By the way, President Bush's White House Chief of Staff, Andrew Card, is a 1971 graduate of your university. In fact, during the President's speech, Mr. Bush claimed that Andrew Card, would come to the White House dressed like Cocky on each Carolina-Clemson game day!)

Carolina has also had visits from President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, who received honorary degrees in 1990.

Of course, we've had many other interesting visitors including Pope John Paul II, who more recently became a saint. Sorry parents, I see the freshman class destined for great things, but sainthood is not among them.

Recently, we've also welcomed Vice President Joe Biden, Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer, Antonin Scalia and Sonya Sotomayor, and our very own Darius Rucker.

In four years, you'll be able to add to this list and be thrilled with the people you've had an opportunity to hear and meet.

Now, I offer some simple advice that you may not expect from your university president.

I urge you first and foremost to take care of yourselves. It's up to you to eat well, eat reasonably and remember that the foods you choose will also have a big impact on your wellness and success.

The master chef at your house — either mom or dad — is not here. However, we do have a strong partner in Sodexo food services and they offer healthy dining choices as well as traditional ones on campus. You'll have a healthy variety of foods to enjoy.

Sleep well. (But not in class.) 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. Administrators and deans, that goes for you too!

Our historic campus covers 450 acres and is home to approximately 8,000 trees. 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, there are many gardens, fountains and shade trees waiting for you.

There are over 400 clubs and organizations on campus. You can join one or even form one. You might ask, "Why should I? What does that have to do with my major?"

Let me tell you a true story. 2005 graduate Michael LaForgia had no interest in news reporting as a freshman English major. However, a staff position with The Daily Gamecock turned into a journalism career. This past May, Michael – now a 30 year old reporter for the Tampa Bay Times— won a prestigious Pulitzer Prize.

In the weeks ahead, as you are invited to join a club or attend an information session, I'd like you to think about Michael LaForgia. Open doors, participate, take chances.

The cornerstone of this university is built on our outstanding faculty. Take the time to get to know your professors. You'll be surprised how willing they are to answer your questions and to get to know you. Speak with them if you see them on the Horseshoe. Visit them during their office hours. They are wise and witty, thoughtful and generous. Let them get to know you.

Check in with your advisors frequently – they are the key to scholarship opportunities, internships and study abroad semesters. They have big plans for you, but it's your job to ask them what they are.

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 up for posting a selfie or two on my twitter account @HarrisPastides or on yours.

Lindsay Richardson, our Student Government president, and Lily Herring have introduced the Carolinian Creed to you. This is a creed that I ask each of you to embrace and live by. It is a creed that is founded on respect for each other and fueled by a desire to learn from each other's differences.

It was Aristotle who said, "The sign of an educated person is the ability to entertain a thought without accepting it." Or simply put, at USC, we grant others the rights that we claim for ourselves. I'm all for a good intellectual debate, but I ask that it always takes the form of civil discourse.

You'll have bumps along the road while you are here: a poor test grade, a rocky relationship, a disappointment. That is part of life, part of becoming an adult. What I want you to remember is that all of us at the university are focused on you. We are here for you and we are excited about this day. All of us want you to succeed.

In a few minutes, the class of 2018 will sing our beautiful alma mater for the first time. I never tire of hearing it. After our opening day football game, on August 28, you and I will sing it in Williams-Brice Stadium with the mighty Gamecocks' football team. You'll appreciate today's practice.

We are going to have four fantastic years together. In 2018, you'll wonder how the time flew by. We wish you happiness, success, friendships, exploration and lots of learning and growth. I wish you four years of joy.

As a Gamecock, there are no limits to what you can achieve. Good luck and Godspeed.