UNION — The future of the Class of 2016 and the future of the USC Union campus were among the subjects addressed at Saturday’s Commencement Exercises at USC Union.
As with previous classes at previous commencements, the Class of 2016 gathered in their caps and gowns on the front steps of the USC Union’s Main Building for a group photo shortly before Saturday’s commencement ceremony got under way. They then entered the building and went to the student lounge where they waited until it was time for them to take their seats in the campus auditorium.
With family and friends watching from their seats in the auditorium and, in some cases, from Truluck Activity Center where the ceremony was streamed live and project onto a large screen, the Class of 2016 listened as USC officials and other dignitaries spoke about their future and that of USC Union.
University of South Carolina President Dr. Harris Pastides was among those to speak and he began by addressing the graduates by the two names they all answer to.
“Good evening Bantams and Gamecocks,” Pastides said as he began his address. “I am delighted to be with you as we celebrate your graduation day.
“Over the next nine days I have the great honor of presiding over thirteen majestic USC commencement ceremonies,” he said. “I am excited to share this important milestone with you and I offer you a heartfelt send-off, confident that you are well prepared for the future.”
Pastides also offered the graduates some good news about their prospects for employment after graduation.
“I’m pleased to report that you will be entering a more receptive job market than in recent years,” Pastides said. “The National Association of Colleges and Employers is reporting that employers are planning to hire 11 percent more college graduates for U.S. jobs this year than in 2015. That’s great news.”
As for those planning to continue their education beyond the Associate Degree level, Pastides said USC is ready to assist them in that endeavor, both at its major campuses and online.
“Associate degrees are an important step toward a baccalaureate degree,” Pastides said. “Soon many of today’s graduates will be transferring to one of our three comprehensive universities – USC Upstate, USC Aiken or USC Beaufort; or others will transfer to USC’s largest campus in Columbia.
“If moving is not possible – the good news is that a baccalaureate degree is now accessible and affordable for you through Palmetto College online where you can work toward your BA or BS degree,” he said.
Pastides also addressed the USC Union faculty, praising them for the positive impact they are having on their students and on the growth of the campus.
“I would like to express my warmest thanks to USC Union’s dedicated faculty — and my colleagues, who continue to be exceptional mentors to our students,” Pastides said. “It is a reflection on each of you that Spring 2016 enrollment at USC Union had a more than 20 percent increase over last year.
Pastides also praised USC Union Dean John Catalano for his leadership and also praised the program of improvements now under way at the campus.
“I also want to recognize Dean Catalano for his leadership and oversight of this beautiful campus,” Pastides said. “I am pleased that the new Disabilities Services office will open this summer. I am also happy that renovations are underway for both the Main and Central Buildings and that construction has begun on the Patron’s Park project. All are important improvements to the Union campus. You’ll want to see them, so come back and visit soon.”
Pastides concluded by reminding the graduates of another transition they were making with graduation.
“Graduates, today you become alumni and will join the nearly 300,000 living USC alumni system wide,” Pastides said. “Your new alumni center in Columbia is now open. I hope that you will stop by next time you are in the Capital City and ask for the grand tour. This Center is yours to enjoy and use.
“So keep the University of South Carolina in your heart and remember that you will always be important to both the Bantam community and the Gamecock nation,” he said. “Congratulations! Good luck and Godspeed.”
Catalano also spoke during Saturday’s commencement, pointing out that the graduation of the Class of 2016 also marks an important milestone in the history of USC Union.
“This commencement exercise marks the end of the 50th Anniversary year of USC Union,” Catalano said. “Now I won’t try to fool you. Our first fifty years have been difficult. At least one Governor made it clear he wanted to close USC Union. Our state funding continues to be terrible. The economy has made it hard for students to attend. But I am still tremendously optimistic about our future.”
Catalano then proceeded to make his case for optimism about USC Union’s future by looking back at the history of USC itself.
“I would like to make a comparison to USC Columbia on their 50th Anniversary,” Catalano said. “I didn’t think you’d mind Mr. President since 1851 was a little before your tenure. Columbia had a total of only 184 students taught by eight full time faculty members. In fact, the 237 students of 1849 was the high water mark of students on the campus until 1905, over 100 years after the founding.
“During those first 50 years, the campus had weathered a student revolt against the bursar, a public trial in the SC Legislature of President Thomas Cooper, one temporary shutdown, troubles in town, and a proliferation of alcohol and weapons on campus,” he said. “The campus was designed exclusively for wealthy young white men and featured a curriculum that was almost entirely classical in nature. Women and minorities need not apply.”
For all of this, however, Catalano said USC was able to progress and grow because of the support it received from the State of South Carolina.
“And yet the campus was well treated by the SC Legislature,” Catalano said. “It boasted a great library and facilities. And when President Thornwell, an ordained Presbyterian minister suggested in 1847 that the campus was a little cramped, two new buildings were funded by the SC legislature, Harper and Legare. Imagine that it was SC that valued higher education enough to provide facilities when needed.’
Catalano then returned to the present and explained why there is even greater reason for optimism about USC Union on its 50th anniversary then for USC on its 50th.
“Now look at USC Union at 50 and I’ll tell you why I’m optimistic,” Catalano said. “We will have four times the student numbers Columbia did when it turned 50. We have more faculty members. We have refurbished our own buildings with local gifts for the most part and the campus is debt free. We have room for expansion, there have been no student revolts, no student duels, and no one has tried the Dean yet.
Now look how far Columbia has come since its 50th,” he said. “There is no reason that USC Union shouldn’t one day become as big a social and economic engine to the Upstate as USC Columbia has become to the Midlands. We will grow with or without the help of the legislature. We will continue to educate every student who shows up at our doors with promise of success and we will cherish their diversity. I invite all of you, and especially the new graduates, to participate in that growth and change.”
In addition to the degrees presented to the graduating students, Saturday’s commencement also saw the presentation of two other honors.
The first was USC Union’s Distinguished Teacher of the Year Award for 2016 which was presented to Instructor Randy Ivey.
Next was the Kennedy Academic Recognition Award which publicly recognizes and rewards the highest achieving USC Union graduate each year. This year’s award was presented to Alana Dion Wright.
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090 or email@example.com.