The Daily Gamecock

A Conversation with University President Harris Pastides

The Daily Gamecock: What is the importance of Parents Weekend?

Harris Pastides: Well, I would say that parents are an important constituent group at the university. They don't get as much attention necessarily as students, faculty, staff, and alumni, but they're very, very important. Parents Weekend is the most direct and tangible way where they can come and really feel like what it is like to go to school here. It's actually one of our favorite weekends of the year.

Patricia Moore-Pastides: It's true, we host a reception on Friday evening for parents, and last year we had 800 who signed up, and I think 900 have signed up for this year ... we always ask where they're from, and that's really interesting too, because you know, sometimes the people from furthest away who you might not expect would come, do come, and really look forward to it, and we also have had parents who've told us when their kid is a senior, "We're so sorry we can't come back!" So I think our staff does a really nice job of putting on activities and really making it nice for them, rolling out the red carpet and everything.

TDG: So, how does USC make this weekend special for parents?

PMP: We have an incredible number of talented staff members who have worked overtime getting ready, who have done a lot of planning, who have tried to create a diverse number of activities so parents can go to classes, they can go to a pool party at the Strom, of course there'll be a huge tailgate and of course attend a football game. With time allotted, you know, for going to Bed, Bath, and Beyond, or Target, if needed, and have a meal with their student, but I can't say enough, really, about the staff. 

PMP: And I always have a little session on Friday afternoon for parents that's about my work with sustainability and food on campus ... so I get a small group of parents, but nonetheless, an engaged group that comes ... and I enjoy that, because it's really giving me the opportunity to be with a select smaller group to really share. It's fun.

TDG: How do you think parents can best help their children who are freshmen adjust to college?

HP: Well, I would say adopt a relationship and a communication plan that is not estranged. That is not overly hovering, but not too far away either. And to focus on keeping their ear to the ground because they know their child better than anyone else. But freshman year, we know, is the toughest year in college, and those who navigate that well usually will navigate all four years well.

PMP: It's very valuable for the parents to be able to pay attention and to be able to guide them and to let them know there's help on campus for anything— that's always our biggest message, because we're like the surrogate parents, while they're here, and our biggest message is always that, whatever the issue is, whether it's your grades, or some course, or some issue in your personal life that's troubling, there are people here to help you, and you can't hammer that message home enough, because you are for the first time living on your own, having new responsibilities and new challenges, and not everything goes smoothly. So it's good for the parents to allow the children to live on their own and to allow their children space to learn how to live responsibly, but to also just be there as a backup and know that there's help on campus. I need help, personally, this weekend, because I have to be the starter of the football game, and I am so scared. So I thought, maybe if I say this, because we always say, "There's help, there's help for you on campus," maybe the students will help me by cheering really loudly.

HP: This is a sell-out. It's Coach Muschamp's first home game. Forgive me for saying this, but you could be bad at it, and they'd still go wild, and you're not going to be bad at it, so you're going to be great. Remember what I told you, though, the trick it's all technical. You have to be enthusiastic, a little jumping — well, not jumping, but enthusiasm. 

PMP: Yeah, but do you think it's going to be harder or easier than throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game?

HP: Easier.

PMP: Easier? Oh, I practiced that for a month. I did, literally, I had 6 baseballs in the backyard, and for a solid month I went out every morning ...

HP: Coach Tanner was her--

PMP: Yeah, he showed me how to pitch, and then I went out for a solid month every day and I threw those balls from one end of the yard to the other, and then I'd run over there and throw them back, trying to see if I could build up an arm that wouldn't shame me.

TDG: Our sports editor actually does pitching lessons. He could have helped.

PMP: Oh, that would've been great! See, you have to ask for help. Because, you know, there I was in the backyard and the only person I knew to call was Coach Tanner.

TDG: What are you most looking forward to, this semester at USC?

PMP: Not just Parents Weekend, but just in general? The State of the University.

HP: Well, it'll be over by the time they read it, and they'll say "what?"

PMP: We're going to see Marina play piano tonight, and that'll be wonderful. It's like everything, you know, it's hard to pick just one thing. I'm having the Preston tea this week.

HP: I would say, you know, not because it's coming up only, but the first home football game of the year. We're very close, you know, to the other athletic teams, but we always love the dance performances, Theatre Carolina ...

PMP: It's like what I said, it's not just one thing.

TDG: For each of you, what is your favorite spot on campus and why?

PMP: I really like the garden behind the President's house — it's fabulous. It's so serene and there's bird life, and I'm always out there checking my fruit trees. The whole campus is great and the President's house is beautiful, but the garden is like, really special.

HP: And also the conservatory.

PMP: Yeah, yeah, we put that greenhouse on the back, and now we have, too, a new fresco painting out there — an art student applied for a Magellan to paint a fresco on the cement wall behind the President's house, and she finished it over the summer, and it's beautiful, you'll have to come and see.  It's really beautiful.

HP: I would say there's a tree that my children planted when I was invested as president that's on the Horseshoe in front of Legare. It's a little sentimental.  It's not necessarily any prettier there than it is anywhere else on the Horseshoe.  And then I'm excited to see how the Foundation Square develops.

TDG: Great.  And since I have the two of you together, I have an extra question for you.  Do you two cook together at all?

PMP: Yes!

TDG: What's your favorite dish or dinner to cook together?

PMP: Well, we might have two different ones.

HP: There are at least two.

PMP: Well, do you want to go first?

HP: Well, one is a traditional and romantic dinner that we've been making since before we were married, a fondue.  And I know that's old fashioned.

PMP: It sounds really 1970s.

HP: We do that and sit across from each other and have wine and wonderful bread--

PM:P We put on our bell bottoms.

HP: --with the fondue and a green salad, so that's kind of a, you know, tradition.  And then, I would say, you know, grilling and lamb chops.

PMP: I like to do, you know, on a weekend afternoon I like to do a bunch of different vegetable dishes, preferably if they've come out of the garden.  Right now the garden's dug up because the summer things are finished and we're planting for the fall, but I love to make eggplant dishes, zucchini, roast potatoes, and I usually just get these little lamb chops from Trader Joe's, and Harris just throws them on the grill.

HP: You're making us hungry.

PMP: See, I thought you were going to say pizza.  Harris likes to make homemade pizza.  And I would make the dough, and then we would make the sauce just with chopped tomatoes, olive oil, and dried oregano, and just cook it down, and then partially bake the crust and then put the sauce on and then some cheese, and then I would usually do sauteed spinach or broccoli rabe with garlic on top of that.

HP: Well, if we weren't hungry before ...

PMP: I think homemade pizza is usually our go-to for Sunday night, and then the rest of the time we live on hors d'oeuvres because we have so many receptions, you know, during the reception time we don't usually eat because we're usually talking with our guests.