There was no better way to introduce the 15th Clemson president to his new home than with the warm welcome he received from various student organizations during his tour of the campus on Sunday, Jan. 13. Undergraduate Student Body President, Kayley Seawright (‘14), organized a walk that stopped at some of the University’s most significant landmarks to engage Dr. Clements in the rich history, school spirit and sense of family that brings together Clemson students, past and present — students it’s now up to him to lead. The tour was about giving the gift of community, something infinitely more valuable and true to the essence of Clemson University than any old dust-catching trinket could begin to capture. Although … it might not be a bad idea to get the man a pair of orange pants, the ones with the paws brazenly embroidered up and down the legs. You can just credit us in the note.
It seems cliche to bring in any reference to the weather, but after the days of gray and rainy gloom that have been thrown over campus, Sunday’s sudden break into deep blue skies seemed like a high-five from the universe. And Clements would have been quick to high-five back if that were physically possible; that’s just the type of man he appears to be. Affable. Charming. A cheerfully concerned father-figure, listening — no, wanting — to hear about all of the problems and concerns on his students’ minds so that he can focus his aim. Between Tyler, Hannah, Maggie, Grace and Beth, Clements is never in need of an entourage but when he pulled up to Bowman to begin the tour, he was riding solo. He didn’t so much step as spring out of the golfcart, right hand at the ready to clasp yours, left hand coming around in a friendly pat on the back. Everybody needed to tell him their name; he nonverbally insisted upon it with the directness with which he focused his attention on them. As Director of Development for CUSG, Kate Gasparro (‘14) was the one who kicked the afternoon off, taking the group across Bowman while she gave a general overview of how students’ daily lives colored campus. When Gasparro got to describing the various pick-up-games that break out on the field, Clements broke into a huge grin. Turning to one of the event’s reporters, he gave them a friendly nudge as he asked them when they were going to toss the football. An answer was expected because the offer was real; Clements seemed eager to get in among students to develop a relationship that’s more personal than that of an omnipresent figurehead. He’s not content to sit in an office, looking at papers and emails with names on them — he wants to connect to faces, to people and their stories. “What can I help you with?” Repeated over and over again, always with his head tilted slightly to the side, clear grey-blue eyes creasing slightly with the focus of his attention. The expression of someone who’s genuinely interested in what is being said, who’s both here — listening to the problem — and there — thinking out further ahead and what can be done to solve it.
From listening to groups like Scabbard and Blade expound upon Clemson’s rich military heritage to running down the hill through a tunnel of cheers and shimmying orange and purple pompoms, Clements seamlessly shifted between his role as both a sharp leader and an exuberant family member filled with Tiger pride. He seems to understand the importance of marrying together progress and tradition as well as the confidence and competence it takes to lead us through it. “It’s my job to help you [the students] be successful and give you what you need to succeed,” Clements said.
And in between the meetings and the boardrooms and the offices, he’s assured us that students are always his top priority. He listened to every concern brought to him with equal gravity. It was this enthusiasm to make that turned a two-hour stop-and-go tour into a nearly four-hour long affair. The president refused to be content with “Hi’s” and “How are you’s?” but instead wanted to make every minute students had in direct contact with him count. The question of how Clements will serve in his new presidency was answered that afternoon.
As we walked up to the Military Heritage Plaza, young men and women in uniform filed into formation. Cadet Zach Morrison began by explaining the significance of the statue of the soldier. “The soldier is shown walking out into the world, his eyes fixated on what is to be his future … with his books in his left hand, allowing for his right hand to be free for a salute, he stands and walks upright with dignity.” We moved on to the front of Tillman where we were met by carillon instructor, Dr. Linda Dzuris. We followed her up the spiraling staircase into Tillman’s clock tower and to the carillon room, where Carrie Eisengrein (‘14) played the alma mater on the bells. Upon Dzuris’s invitation, Clements gleefully sat on the bench, balled up his fist and pressed down. As the bell resounded, that ever-present grin slipped across his face.
At every stop during his tour, Clements greeted each individual with a handshake and attentively listened to each group as they offered their excitement and concern for the growth of the university. Every group highly complimented the work that has and is being done for their respective organizations, but they were also looking into the future and stating their projected needs and how they thought they should or could be met. Clements offered kind words and great encouragement, openly inviting students to contact him to keep him updated. After every question and answer period, he thanked everyone with a handshake, posed for a group pictures or students’ personal photographs.
Looking to the Future
While viewing the Greek quad and walking to Fike Recreation Center, Clements spoke with Seawright and Student Senate President, Drew Casella (‘14), about some key issues facing campus and its students. on campus. One of those issues being the renovation of the Union and its courtyard. “Student government has some important student priorities that we would like to bring before the Board of Trustees and Clemson Admin,” Casella said. “And we will develop a comprehensive plan to address what we feel will lead to more opportunities and growth for students.” At Fike, Clements was greeted by the intramural and club sports organizations. All American Flag Football player, Christian Bright (‘14) spoke with the president about the intramural fields and Fike. He spoke on the conditions of the fields as well as club members’ desires to have more space and safety features. He mentioned some ideas about expanding the recreation center.
Learning from the past
Clements shared the company of former Clemson ROTC instructors, Col. Lance B. Young, Col. Ed DeJulio and Col. Sandy Edge as he walked through the Scroll of Honor Memorial. The three colonels shared various details of the university’s ROTC program and the achievements of the proud young men and women who dedicated themselves not only to the school but also their country. During his tour of the Woodlands Cemetery, Clements stuck closely to guide Trent Allen, and they shared their knowledge of Clemson’s rich history.
Appreciating the present
After his tour around campus Clements relaxed and enjoyed refreshments in the Carillion Gardens with the members of ClemsonLive. De Anne spoke with him briefly and asked for his advice for students who wanted to enter higher education. His response? “Well, you have to want to make a difference in people’s lives, and care about the impact you will make within students lives and an institution.” He looked around the gardens seeing the interaction between all the students that participated in his welcome tour. “And speaking of impact, I’ve been in higher education for 25 years and I’ve never seen anything like what I experienced today!”
“I learned a lot of great things,” Clements said. “And now? I’m hungry — let’s eat!” With a large slice of sausage pizza held in his hand, he stayed to shoot cornhole with members of his newly adopted family showing that Clemson isn’t just something he thinks turns on and off at the end of the work day. He’s fully committed to living in the fabric of the community, asking to come in and serve its members. So look out for his Tweets because it’s likely he and Grace will need a few people to join them on the courts in Fike for a pick-up game or two sometime soon.
– De Anne Anthony (‘14) and Savannah Mozingo (‘15)