By Audrey McCall Coogler, '02, '10 M.B.A., '13 M.H.R., 803-777-8161
For so many who walk past, it’s just a bench, one of the dozen or so that face USC’s historic Horseshoe. For me, that bench is so very special and has become my touchstone as a Gamecock.
The first time I sat on the bench I was in middle school, visiting campus with my dad, a huge Gamecock fan who graduated from Carolina in 1974. We stopped because he thought the lighting was nice and wanted to snap a picture of me near the big, white columns of the South Caroliniana Library.
Years later, I was deciding where to go to college — we lived in Cary, N.C., and I wanted to go somewhere other than where all of my high school friends were going. I applied to all of the N.C. schools because it was easy, but also to Furman, George Washington and Carolina. The day of my campus tour, something clicked. Everything about USC just felt right, and I decided that day I would attend college there. My dad was with me, and as we were walking through the Horseshoe, he said, “Hey, let’s take your picture on the same bench from a few years ago.” From that point on, it was “my bench.”
As an undergraduate theater major, I would sometimes pass it without thinking on the way to Longstreet Theater, where I helped design and construct sets. Other days I would seek it out and just sit and watch the world go by. It became a special place because it reminded me of my father and my family and their love and support.
Of course, every time my parents came to see me, Dad would insist on a picture at the bench. In 2002, I posed there in all my graduation glory. Ditto in 2010 when I earned an M.B.A. and in 2013 when I graduated with a master’s in human resources management.
By the time that third graduation ceremony rolled around, I was dating Kevin Coogler, a 2001 USC grad. We had met as undergrads but never dated until our paths crossed 13 years later. He was there for my December 2013 graduation and — unbeknownst to me — had the ring in his pocket. My dad suggested a photo of us on the bench. I was puzzled. Why should we take a picture of Kevin sitting with me on my bench? I had never shared it with anyone but my father.
Kevin decided at the last minute to not overshadow my big day with a marriage proposal, but he got his opportunity a couple of weeks later. It was just after Christmas, and we were strolling across the Horseshoe on a cold, drippy day. We stopped at my bench, and a few minutes later he got down on one knee and it became our bench. A year later, we were married in Rutledge Chapel. And, you guessed it, I made sure to take wedding photos on that bench.
One day, when we have children, we hope to continue the tradition and take pictures of them on the bench. I figure I’ll pass along the opportunity for groans and sighs of discontent that I provided my father every time he made me take these pictures. It’s only fair that I torture them in the same way until they realize the significance of having a place that you consider yours for reasons only your heart will understand.
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