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Run to The Torchbearer!

Inside Wardlaw, on the second floor, the hushed halls were punctuated by the staccato of clicking computer keys typed by 2nd-year HESA students taking their qualifying comprehensive exams. Their concentration was oblivious to the laughter and joyous chatter of 1st-year HESA students outside decorating The Torchbearer in their honor. HESA is the acronym for a master's degree in higher education and student affairs. It is an intensive 42-credit hour graduate program comprised of intensive academic study, practicums and internships for individuals seeking careers in the administration of college student development services and activities.

Study groups have been huddling for months in preparation for this comprehensive exam. "We have 51 students taking their Comps today" says Jennifer L. Bloom, clinical professor and director of the HESA program at USC's College of Education. "Friday's Comps celebration at noon is a long-time HESA tradition. The unofficial rule is that you are not allowed to touch the horse as a HESA student until after you have taken Comps during your second year of the program" (Students believe that touching The Torchbearer before finishing Comps means that they won't pass). Bloom continues, "We are expecting 150+ people from across campus coming over at noon to celebrate the fact that the 2nd-years have taken their Comps." And, indeed they came!

It is a remarkable community of support by the HESA alumni, faculty and friends with the HESA students. "This is a BIG day," says Katie Little, who is a 1st-year HESA student. "The 1st-years are secret "Buddies" to the 2nd-years while they study for Comps. Each secret Buddy leaves their 2nd-year little surprises where they know they will find them – in their office, dorm room, classroom... It's our way of letting them know that we are supportive and want them to succeed. So, the final surprise for them is, letting them know who we are at The Torchbearer."

The anticipation is heightened as the "Buddies" start forming a gauntlet for the 2nd-years' to dash through to reach The Torchbearer. They stand unfurling their signs, fidgeting with flowers, looking at their watches, darting about and finally getting into position while waiting for the graduates to burst through Wardlaw's front doors. It is tradition that the HESA graduates wait for everyone to finish the exam and gather in Wardlaw's foyer entrance. When everyone is there, they run outside and touch The Torchbearer statute together.

Somehow -- in the melee squeals of excitement, shouts of jubilation, mass hugging, and laughter -- these graduates manage to find their Buddies and many supporters as they scramble down from The Torchbearer. Their faces bear a sense of relief as they celebrate. These are the young men and women who have dedicated themselves to become future administrators in higher education or student affairs. It is fitting that the HESA students started this tradition around The Torchbearer statue, donated by Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington (1876-1973) for it is her behest that may have started this tradition.

Mrs. Huntington is known as one of the masters of naturalist animal sculpture, particularity for equestrian statues. Such statues can be found around the world on campuses, in museums and at outdoor parks. In the 1950s, Anna Huntington sculpted an aluminum grouping of large figures – one man collapsing on the ground as he hands a torch to another man astride a stallion – entitled The Torch Bearers. That work symbolizes passing the torch of civilization from one generation to the next. The Huntingtons donated that statue to the University of Madrid.

Between 1959 and 1966, Mrs. Huntington completed five more equestrian statues. In 1965, she donated The Torchbearer to the University of South Carolina. Although The Torchbearer is a massive 18-foot-tall bronze casting of a young rider atop a majestic horse, Mrs. Huntington requested that the university position the statue on a low base so that children could climb up and touch it. Maybe this is where the HESA tradition began…

Well done graduates. You have run the gauntlet and now you carry the torch! The College of Education proudly celebrates this year's HESA graduates! Click here for more fun and more pictures.

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