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Home for the holidays

Fond campus memories inspire winning holiday card design

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The guidelines for the University of South Carolina’s holiday card design contest state that any USC student — “from any major or discipline, from any campus, whether attending online or in person” — can win. In case anyone wondered if that’s really true, this year’s winner should dispel any doubt.
In just its second year of existence, the holiday card design contest has been won by a student who isn’t studying on the Columbia campus. In fact, Renee Herzer isn’t even in-state.
Herzer is a junior transfer student pursuing USC’s online information technology degree. But she’s no stranger to USC Columbia. Her husband, Nicholas, earned a biology degree with a minor in chemistry from South Carolina in 2016. “Whenever I’d come visit him on campus, we frequented the Horseshoe, and I always associate that with USC,” Herzer says.
With her husband now stationed in Virginia, Herzer found out about South Carolina’s online programs and jumped at the chance to pursue an IT degree. But she has a passion for artistic creativity as well, and even has an Etsy shop where she sells custom-designed clothing and prints of digital art, landscapes and the like.
After reading the contest’s criteria, Herzer realized she could enter a piece of digital art instead of a traditional medium like watercolor on paper or acrylic on canvas. Her winning design was created on an iPad with Procreate.
“It’s really special to have been chosen,” she says. “For it to be my first semester as a USC student and just kind of try my hand at something fun since I can't participate in a lot of stuff on campus, this is really special.”
Herzer’s fond memories of the Horseshoe made the heart of campus an obvious topic for her holiday card artwork. She also drew inspiration from the South Carolina state flag. “I tried to mimic the Palmetto tree and moon from the state flag,” she says, combining those elements with the Horseshoe gates to evoke memories of South Carolina.
USC President Michael Amiridis and First Lady Ero Aggelopoulou-Amiridis had a bit more work to do this year when choosing the winner as 65 student artists — from six of USC’s eight campuses, plus online — submitted 97 designs, both a considerable increase from last year when 40 students submitted 70 entries. But the couple welcomed the contest’s growth.
“Ero and I are always impressed by the creativity and talent of our students, and we enjoyed seeing all of their designs for the holiday cards,” Amiridis said. “We loved Renee’s innovative illustration of the Horseshoe gates, which seemed to capture the spirit of the season and our Carolina home.”
Herzer was surprised and excited to find out she’d won. Her winning design earned her a $500 gift card and the opportunity to have her art featured on the president’s and first lady’s 2023 holiday greeting card. The runners-up, Alireza Mashreghi and Gracie Newton, each won $250 gift cards.