Editor's note: This story was published the day after Dr. Andrew Sorensen's final day as president of the University of South Carolina.
It's just after 8 o'clock on an already warm Thursday morning, and in walks Andrew Sorensen , dressed for work, his multicolored bow tie setting off a straw-colored blazer.
The walls of his once elegantly appointed office in the Osborne Administration Building are bare. A few plants are in the room, but it's mostly just space.
Sorensen, 70, is still flushed from his morning bike ride. Six years as president of USC, and his tenure is now down to a few hours. It's to be a half-day of work, and then it's on to a vacation with his wife, children and grandchild in upstate New York.
When he comes back a week from Monday, he will begin his new work life as a special-projects collaborator in USC's School of Medicine. A new man, a pro of sorts, will be settling into his old chair.
USC's spokesman, Russ McKinney, pulls Sorensen aside to tell him that a fire has destroyed an apartment complex next to the campus at USC Upstate. No one's been killed; some of the USC students who lived there were injured, though none is believed to be seriously hurt.
Sorensen's brow furrows with concern. If the jarring memory of another fire, one that killed USC students at a beach house in North Carolina last year, flashes through his mind, he doesn't say.
He clasps his hands at his belt buckle and tells McKinney to keep him informed, let him know if there are any updates.
The president's last outside appointment is with The State newspaper. He jokes with a photographer and videographer and compliments a reporter on a previous story. His preacher-politician-president skills are still much in evidence.
"You want me here?" he asks, taking a seat at a table across from the reporter.
The photographer closes the blinds a little on a nearby window to keep the morning light from making Sorensen squint. And with the prompting of a few questions, Sorensen hits the highs and lows of his presidency.
His relationship with the students, standing with them at ball games ("Trying to encourage them to use slightly less profanity when they're cursing the refs"), accepting the occasional dinner invitation to eat with students in their dorms, lending them sugar at 10 p.m. from the front door of the president's house on the Horseshoe. (Some students borrowed sugar to make sweet tea, Sorensen explained.)
Improving the university's relationship with city and county government. "I've been told there's been considerable change over the last six years (to) a warm, cooperative relationship between the city and the university and the county and the university," Sorensen said.
Improving USC's relationship with black residents through the formation of the Community Advisory Council
The Innovista, which the university hopes will be a center of research and development
The Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., fire in November that killed six USC students and one from Clemson. "That was emotionally draining, exhausting, demanding, psychologically and physically demanding," Sorensen said. "My wife and I attended all of the funerals. We spent a lot of time talking with parents and the siblings of the kids who died. That was a very difficult period."
Fundraising. The size of USC's endowment lags far behind other Southeastern universities, something the school's board of trustees have said the next president must address.
Not getting more funding from the General Assembly. "The university is actually getting less money today in state appropriations than when I became president," Sorensen said.
Money, it seems, can never be far from a university president's mind.
Sorensen learned that lesson on his first day on the job – within the first 30 minutes.
That's when Rick Kelly, USC's chief financial officer, walked in with an ominous message: the General Assembly had reduced the school's budget by $19 million.
Sorensen cut his staff and asked the school's department heads to be as aggressive as he had been in finding savings.
The shortfall was made up, Sorensen said.
Starting today, problems like that won't come to Sorensen's desk.
Well, they will, it's just that Harris Pastides, USC's new president, will be sitting there.
Sorensen has known Pastides for nearly three decades, stretching back to when Sorensen was a dean at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Pastides was a star researcher and assistant professor of epidemiology.
Sorensen promoted Pastides in Amherst and eventually recommended that USC hire him as dean of its school of public health.
Both men know that a university presidency is like a relay race of fundraising, encouraging, managing, charming, begging, firing and hiring.
Thursday morning, before Sorensen rose from his seat at the table to clear a few last things up behind his desk, he mused about the young epidemiology professor who started the race a little later than he did.
"I'm very pleased to be passing the baton to Harris," Sorensen said.