Skip to Content

Joining the class of 2019

President Pastides reflects on his last commencement exercises

Over the past 11 years, the University of South Carolina has experienced tremendous growth — not just as a campus, not just as a student body, but as an institution. No one knows this better than President Harris Pastides, who assumed office at a time of great uncertainty and led the state’s flagship university into an era of unrivaled confidence and unprecedented success. 

Under Pastides’ leadership, the university reinvented itself in the classroom and the laboratory, on the athletic field and beyond the campus walls. The university rose in the rankings and in reputation — not just in the state of South Carolina, but also nationally and even internationally. South Carolina was an excellent institution in 2008. In 2019, it is a remarkable one.

As president, Pastides participated in more than 100 commencement ceremonies across the university system, delivering remarks, career advice and wise counsel to more than 100,000 graduates — one-third of all university alumni. In May, Pastides and first lady Patricia Moore-Pastides made their final round of commencement events, with the president serving as the main speaker at each campus. It marked a bittersweet moment for Pastides, who — with retirement looming on July 31 — considers himself and his wife honorary members of the Class of 2019.

Prior to last month’s ceremonies, Pastides shared his thoughts on his final commencement as president, what he planned to share with students and his and Patricia’s plans for retirement.

What’s it been like to draft the last commencement remarks you’ll deliver as president of the university?

This commencement address has been one of the hardest things I’ve had to write in my presidency. I see this as my graduation as well. I went back and looked at all of my commencement addresses to date where I’ve talked about the history and impact of USC, civil discourse, the Carolinian Creed, the importance of teamwork and leadership and many other topics, from resilience and personal happiness to great people such as Roger Bannister, the Wright Brothers and Martin Luther King. But for my final commencement address, I’ve chosen the theme of moving on.

That sounds appropriate — the new graduates are moving on and so are you.

I’m finding moving on difficult and complicated so I did some research on what psychologists have to say about it. Most of what you find has to do with moving on after a breakup or divorce, but there’s very little about moving on from something you love. So I looked at what songwriters and poets have said and came across lyrics that one country songwriter penned, something to the effect of, “You broke my heart so I tore up your picture.” Again, not appropriate to our situation, but I’m going to need a little comedy in what otherwise might be a very serious talk. In the end, I’ve come up with a metaphor for moving on from USC that I think is new and different.

In retrospect, have the past 11 years gone by quickly?

Patricia always says the time flew by like the wink of an eye, but some of the days were the longest in our lives. It’s very true. When people ask us, “Why would you leave?” or “How can you leave?”, we tell them that we don’t feel anything other than thankful — and satisfied. Would it be nice to have a 12th year and a 13th year? Yes, but to leave now is like getting up from a good meal where you’re not stuffed but satisfied, and you’re looking forward to doing something new. So we’re still going to have a new chapter of our lives without feeling stuffed or tired.

What does that next chapter look like?

We’ll be doing a lot of travel over the next year, and then we’ll reconnect with the university. I feel like I’ve been juggling 13 balls every day, so in retirement I’m going to start dropping one at a time, but not all of them. The two most important are family and community service. We’ve decided not to sign up for anything right away on the latter, but Patricia has a deep commitment to things like literacy and healthy eating, and I am very interested in service to higher education and, of course, public health. I’ll be finding new ways to serve the university, perhaps working more individually with students and faculty who would like some advice or mentorship. I certainly would not do anything without the request of the board and the university’s new leader, but I’ll be around, I’ll have an office on campus. 



Looking Back

Over the past decade, the first couple has touched innumerable lives and demonstrated compassion, spirit and leadership from day one. From athletics to commencements, here’s a look back at a handful of memorable moments.