When I was in preschool — or maybe earlier, I’m not sure — we went to a Dr. Demento event at USC and I got my first glimpse of an SC icon, the Tommy Trojan statue. (I also got what I remember as my first splinter while charging around on some wooden bleachers, which might have added to the memorability factor, I’m not sure.)
Now, my grandfather both attended and taught at SC. Then my uncle went there. I grew up excited If SC made it to the Rose Bowl, because that meant my mom wouldn’t pitch a fit about renting a TV during Christmas break. The brainwashing began that early — and it was effective, apparently, because 14 years or so after getting that splinter removed, I enrolled. I joined the marching band. I walked by that statue every day.
I’m sure that warrior in profile means different things to everyone who sees it — tradition, high spirits, laughing ridicule for the non-believers, you name it. But for me, it is one of two constants I can point to that have always been in my subconscious. There’s the family farm, and there is Tommy Trojan.
Not the whole SC campus, mind you. Just the statue.
I’ve been back to visit a few times since graduation, and while I don’t have any trouble navigating the campus, something has always shifted. New buildings, redirected traffic patterns, different areas blocked off for construction. A few years back, the administration even did away with the school of journalism, making my diploma an antique.
But Tommy remains.
I had a couple extra hours free last night, so I headed to campus. I’m delighted to report that there is scads of metered parking, and the meters take debit cards. I was shocked at how chock-full of buildings the place is — some of my favorite grassy spaces and trees were sacrificed so kids can get higher learning in lower-temperature, climate-controlled classrooms. It even smells different; less like trees and paper, more like pavement and laptops. (Although the wafting grace notes of greasy fast food and boys wearing too much cologne persist.) I swung by to surprise a friend of mine who still works with the marching band (doubly pleased by the look on her face and by the fact I could find the office,) and then hopped over to the bookstore to pick up some swag. (Is it physically possible to be an alum and NOT do that?)
The coffee bar where I worked is gone. The flat patio space where I sat and waited for classes to start has been replaced by a piazza — curving stairs, a fountain, almost-too-precious little cafe tables and chairs.
But down the stairs and to the right, he’s still there, standing guard and serving as a landmark, a meeting place, a touchstone. And, yes, a bird perch. Hey, even a statue has to have some grunt work.