The lasting imprint of the Paw

President Barker's view from his office in Sikes Hall

President Barker’s view from his office in Sikes Hall

From my second-floor office window in Sikes Hall, I look down every day on Bowman Field and a giant orange Tiger Paw painted on the road at the intersection of Old Greenville Highway and Calhoun Drive. You can see it, too, on a live webcam at clemson.edu.

From all points on the globe, alumni send us photos of themselves holding Tiger Rags and Tiger Paw flags. The backdrop may be the Eiffel Tower, a glacier in Alaska or a fighter jet on a dusty runway in Afghanistan, but the people are always smiling. You can see these photos, too, in this and every issue of Clemson World magazine and throughout the social media world.

Wherever Marcia and I travel, our Tiger Paw shirts and caps and lapel pins are recognized by strangers. They also smile and say: “You’re from Clemson!”

These are the measures of a successful graphic design.

The Tiger Paw is universally acknowledged as the most recognizable logo in all of college sports. It has helped define Clemson athletics and Clemson University for more than four decades. It has brought joy to thousands of alumni and fans.

The evolution of a symbol

The paragraphs above were read aloud from a message I sent to Arlene Antonio, the wife of the late John Antonio, at his memorial service in June. John and his talented team at Henderson Advertising had created the Tiger Paw logo for Clemson.

On behalf of the Clemson Family, I was proud to express our gratitude for the excellent work they did on our behalf.

More literal representations of tiger mascots — even cartoon versions — come and go in style. Some are ferocious and intimidating, others are cuddly and lovable. The Paw, on the other hand, is ageless.

The Clemson Tiger Paw is as fresh today as it was when it was introduced in 1970. As a designer myself, I can appreciate the skill it took to create such a successful, enduring piece of graphic art.

As an alumnus and Clemson’s 14th president, however, I have come to appreciate its symbolic power.

The Paw has evolved from an athletics logo into a university symbol. Why? Because the Tiger Paw managed to capture something essential about the “One Clemson” spirit. It is beloved by all and we are united, as a community, by that simple affection.

It also represents not only our ferocious power, but the lasting imprint Clemson folks leave upon the world as we pass by.

Go Tigers!

James F. Barker, FAIA
President

A time for change

For the first time in 14 years as Clemson’s president, the volume of mail I received this semester was so great that I could not even consider answering all of it. So forgive me if I use this space in Clemson World in a very personal way — to say thank you to alumni and others who sent messages of support, encouragement and gratitude, and to reflect on what I learned during my “medical sabbatical” and return to duty this spring.

Lessons learned

First, I learned that the “Clemson Family” is very real. After my heart surgery in January, Marcia and I received literally thousands of cards, letters, emails and posts to a special “get well” blog. And when I say “literally,” I mean it in the classic not ironic sense — literally thousands! These messages were a vital part of my recovery.

Some were heartfelt and touching. Others were funny. Many alumni welcomed me to membership in the “zipper club.” They shared stories of their own or a family member’s improved health and well-being after the same surgery.

Second, I learned that it is humbling and healthy for a pilot to step out of the cockpit and into the passenger cabin once in a while. When you do, you quickly learn there are many people capable of flying the plane.

To paraphrase something former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor once said: When you think you are important or essential, stick your hand in a bucket of water and then pull it out. The hole you leave behind is how much you will be missed.

Clemson University is and always has been larger than the individuals who serve her at any given point in time.

Today, we have many, many dedicated and able folks working for Clemson’s success — faculty, staff, administrators, Trustees and volunteer leaders. So I am also grateful to Chairman David Wilkins, Provost Dori Helms and all others who stepped in to keep the University machine running smoothly in my absence.

Finally, I learned that though my arteries were blocked, my heart was and is very strong.

Eight weeks after my surgery and two days after this picture was taken, Marcia and I left for a trip to Germany and Italy. I met with BMW’s Board of Directors in Munich, and we attended the 40th anniversary celebration of our architecture center in Genoa. It was a wonderful trip in a beautiful place. We were happy to be there, and even happier to be home.

Changing majors

I returned from my medical leave on March 29 and two weeks later asked the Board of Trustees to begin its search for the 15th president of Clemson University. I will remain in office until the new president is found and begins work. After that, I will begin preparing for the next phase of my Clemson career as a faculty member in the School of Architecture.

This is a transition I had always planned to make, and it is not directly related to my surgery. I feel good, have a high level of energy and plan to remain engaged. The personal journey I have taken in the first half of 2013 led me to conclude that this is the right time to “change majors” from the president’s office to Lee Hall simply because Clemson University is in such good shape.

We have a high demand for everything about Clemson. We’re attracting great students, faculty and staff. We are blessed with alumni support and a capital campaign that has been very, very successful. We are financially healthy; in fact, we are in better shape financially than we were before the Great Recession. And we have a plan that has broad support by our alumni and, most importantly perhaps, by our Board of Trustees.

We are on an upward path, and I pledge to do everything I can to continue this positive momentum.

It has been the honor and privilege of my life to serve as your 14th president, and I will always be grateful to Clemson students, faculty, staff and alumni for giving me a chance to serve my alma mater in this special way.

Thank you very much. Go, Tigers!

James F. Barker, FAIA
President