President Harris Pastides has a definite Pavlovian response to the sound of the President's House doorbell. And it has to do with cookies.
"Students ring the bell ... a little bit too late at night," Pastides said. "[And they] would bring a tray of warm cookies and say, 'Got milk?'"
Pastides and his wife, Patricia, have hosted too many late-night visitors bearing baked goods for them to count collectively. It's a neighborly notion that the president speaks of with fondness.
Familiarity with students is something Pastides aims for. He understands that, for many students, the transition onto USC's campus can prove to be a journey.
Pastides and his family moved from Amherst, Massachusetts, for his new position as dean of the Norman J. Arnold School of Public Health in 1998, completely uprooting their family, who had only ever lived in Amherst.
“My daughter was a rising senior in high school — that was particularly hard — and my son was a middle schooler,” Pastides said. “But they knew it was important for me professionally, and they supported me. I’ve never forgotten that.”
Andrew, Pastides's son, found his own niche in South Carolina at the Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities, a residential high school for emerging artists in Greenville, South Carolina. Because Catherine, the then-dean's daughter, had already moved out and into college, the Pastides' were faced for the first time with an empty nest.
"It was hard, particularly at night not knowing if all was well," Pastides said. "And we didn’t want to be calling every hour or even every evening." So when he addresses thousands of parents at the beginning of every school year, Pastides understands exactly what they're going through.
“The relationships with the students, the student body makes me feel like this is my home,” Pastides said. He works just as hard to make students feel the same.
Last year, when classes were canceled for days after the Valentine's Day snowfall, Pastides sent out a tweet inviting students to tour the President's House.
"I figured or I anticipated around 20, 30, 40, maybe 50," he said. "But we got several hundred students who came."
For a president who invests so much into face time with the student body, the unexpected turnout was a heart-warming surprise. “It was one of the most memorable times that I’ve ever had living in the President’s House,” he said.
When thinking about the presidency, Pastides likened the experience to "being a parent but, obviously, in a more community way.” He loves to hear about the accomplishments of individual students and of the student body as a whole, and admits that "when they get into trouble" his natural reaction is that of a dismayed parent. But spending time with students is what he enjoys most.
"I like to be greeted by them. I like to high five them," he said. "That makes me feel like I’m home or I belong here."
That's the legacy Pastides hoped to leave at USC. “I would like my legacy to be first and foremost something personal about how I interact with people, especially students," he said. “For students who would have graduated or attended USC during my tenure to say ‘He was a good guy. He was a good president.’”