First, there were the chairs.
The steady metastasizing of the white folding chairs across Alumni Park and back toward Tommy Trojan was the most unmistakable herald of the biggest party USC will see all year.
The swearing in of C.L. Max Nikias as USC’s 11th president is bringing more than 10,000 students, staff, alumni and members of the Los Angeles community together to celebrate a new era for the university.
The arrival of President Barack Obama on campus on Oct. 22 is the first indication of just how prestigious that era will be. With two inspiring presidents speaking on campus within two weeks of each other, students need to sit up and take notice of the new legacy they are stepping into.
Nikias is a leader who emphasizes character. As president, he will push students to strive for the breadth and depth on which the university prides.
But most notably of all, Nikias will be a president that students have access to. The interest he takes in USC’s student body is not borne solely from the fact that he has two students of his own enrolled here. It stems from the deep and abiding interest he has always taken in the school.
For the first time ever, students not going home for Thanksgiving this fall will be invited to the president’s home in San Marino for dinner. It was also Nikias’ idea to hold afternoon teas with students who want to speak with him. It was he who pioneered Visions and Voices, donated McClintock Theatre and began spearheading the plans for a new health center.
And it is Nikias who students see holding up his “Fight On” sign on the sidelines of the football games.
Students at the inauguration Friday will be watching a man who they might often have seen, without realizing it, walking across campus every day just as they do. Students should be at the edges of their folding seats listening to what he has to say.
Come Friday evening, the chairs will quietly disappear. What will remain on campus is Nikias’ innovation, his unique presence as a leader and his unflagging loyalty to the students of USC.