When I think of USC, I think of golden Southern California sunlight dappling warm green leaves.
I think of lazy afternoons in the sun and the shade, watching and listening and soaking it all in. I think of fountains bubbling and trees rustling and beach cruisers swerving and DPS chariots lurking.
I think of friends the way they were, faces full of youthful energy and carefree joy, minds untroubled by the world that looms north of Hoover, west of Vermont, east of Figueroa, and south of Exposition.
I think of impossibly perfect sorority girls, six feet of sculpted legs and blonde hair and designer sunglasses and KAGQDGPBAFADP handbags and tops cropped effortlessly to showcase shapely shoulders, just so.
I think of mornings in VKC 101, philosophizing and hypothesizing, zoning in and out of discussions that will never leave that room, watching the flags outside flutter and billow in the breeze.
I think of a hundred thousand people dressed in cardinal and gold, celebrating on campus with beer and burgers and boisterous barbecues.
I think of the Trojan Marching Band, the greatest band in the History of the Universe, a whole so much greater than the sum of its parts, a unit bound together by its fierce school pride and commitment to the cause and Arthur C. Bartner’s scratchy voice.
I think of the sunset on June 26th 2010, when the Electric Daisy Carnival came to town and bathed the grey Coliseum in so much love and light that some of us were changed forever (while all the while a fifteen year-old girl lay dying of an Ecstasy overdose outside).
I think of stand-up comedy on the lawn and Quidditch on the grass and a first date at Jacks n Joe that I haven’t fully recovered from.
I think of Matt Barkley, #7, he of the floppy flaxen hair, the devastating right arm, the crinkly blue eyes, the surprisingly feisty Twitter profile, the charming humility and the unshakeable faith in God.
I think of Robert Woods and Marquise Lee accelerating down the field with elegance and grace and fluidity and power.
I think of Mark Sanchez, who somehow didn’t belong to us the way Matt does, who was always solid but rarely spectacular, who allegedly dated Kate Upton for a bit, which, according to the ethos of the Trojan family, means that in some small way, we all dated Kate Upton for a bit.
I think of red brick buildings that have watched over us since 1880, of squeaky sneakers and cut-throat pick-up basketball, of California burritos at Chano’s that can’t be found on the menu because they’re just that disgustingly good.
I think of agonizing nights in Leavey’s fluorescent hell, of focused days in the AFA library, of hot, hurried, hushed moments in Doheney’s deserted bookstacks.
I think of music festivals on Menlo, of block parties and peppy puppies, of our smiles as we watched the Smiles.
I think of sorority philanthropies and neon colors and unchecked testosterone and bared biceps and barely-concealed boozing, and, beneath it all, real, honest, lifelong friendships that make the Greek community a community.
I think of pointless violence and tragic death, of Trojans taken from us too soon by drunk drivers and senseless stabbings and other shit that makes you wonder whether there is any justice out there in the universe.
I think of Laker parades and the energy inside the Staples center when Kobe Bean Bryant, #24, the prince of Los Angeles, is on fire and feeling it and can’t miss even when he’s jacking up contested jumpers from 27 feet.
I think of magical evenings spent under the balmy desert sky, wandering through emerald fields as Mumford and Suns sang till we swooned and Radiohead rocked our realities and Magnetic Man dropped the bass and the Freelance Whales helped us get in touch with our hipster sides and Snoop Dogg smoked three personal blunts on stage while Dr. Dre reminded us that once upon a time he did more than market headphones.
I think of the friendships I never forged, the conversations I never started, the unknown names of those thousands of fellow Trojans whose faces are familiar but whose stories I’ll never know.
I think of the education I received and the responsibility it carries. I think of how sure I was when I arrived, and how confused I was when I left.
Did we make the right decision, to graduate, to grow up, to leave that beautiful place behind?
How long could we have lingered there, savoring our youth and our bliss, reveling in the ethereal sunlight?
We grew up, I guess. We became adults. And though we left that utopia behind, the memory of the school that raised us should linger in our hearts, as we strive to realize our idealism in the world at large.
USC belongs to others now. But it belonged to us, once.