Q&A with President Pastides on Leadership Dialogue

This year's Leadership Dialogue will feature a conversation between University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides and Freedom Rider Diane Nash. We caught up with Pastides to ask him a few questions about the program.

What was the original impetus for starting the Leadership Dialogue?

We often think of the university years as a time for self-discovery. This is true. Part of this discovery is realizing and developing leadership skills. The Leadership Dialogue is tied to our Leadership Initiative – to inspire and prepare all of our students to make a positive difference – locally, statewide, nationally and internationally. The President’s Leadership Dialogue, now in its third year, exposes our students to remarkable individuals who found the courage to lead during extraordinarytimes.

What do you hope comes out of this year’s Leadership Dialogue?

Diane Nash has a powerful, motivating story. She was the same age as most of our students when she participated in sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in Nashville, protested in Rock Hill and coordinated the Freedom Rides through Alabama. Even though she was young, she understood the power and strength of leadership and conviction. I hope our students understand that leaders come in all ages, sizes, genders and ethnicities. I want them to see that active leadership can quite literally change the world. And I hope they understand the relationship between commitment to change and service leadership.

This year, we have seen evidence of leadership from USC’s past with the brave students who desegregated the university back in 1963. What do you see as the university’s leadership role going forward?

The anniversary event on Sept. 11 was inspiring for all in attendance. I agree with James Solomon’s wise remarks when he said that he was proud of the progress that had been made in American society but that much work still needs to be done. As president of South Carolina’s flagship university, I am committed to access and affordable higher education for all South Carolinians. I believe that a liberal arts education creates thinkers, problem-solvers and leaders much like Henrie Monteith Treadwell, Robert Anderson, James Solomon and Diane Nash. Consequently, we have to be sure that our doors are open, our university is welcoming and that our tuition is affordable. We also need to ensure that we provide the tools necessary to create thoughtful, innovative and globally minded leaders.

Diane Nash was part of that landmark Civil Rights movement that brought greater equality to Southern life. What do you think she can teach our students about personal leadership?

She will surely teach us that sometimes leadership requires exceptional strength, vision and fortitude. I am sure that Diane Nash will also teach us that anger, in this instance about segregation and inequality, can be channeled into positive action that achieves significant results. She will teach us that there are times when giving in or giving up is not an option. And she will teach us about consequences. She knew that the Freedom Riders were facing violence and possibly death, yet, together, they were willing to face these odds for a better future. I hope that she teaches us how to draw from our own deep wells of strength, courage and compassion to serve a greater good.

What other leadership initiatives or efforts will we see in the coming year?

For the first time, undergraduates now have the opportunity to leave Carolina with a new distinction: Graduation with Leadership. It will be noted on each participant’s transcript that he or she has fulfilled stringent requirements in one of four targeted pathways of leadership: community service, global learning, professional and civic engagement and research.

If you are going

USC President Harris Pastides and Freedom Rider Diane Nash will discuss leadership, civic engagement and the importance of every person in the 2014 Leadership Dialogue. The event starts at 7 p.m., Tuesday (Feb. 25) in the Law School Auditorium, 701 South Main St., and is free and open to the public.

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