(Note: three stories about some of the unusual academic discussions in which the parents engaged follow this story. Just page down.)
They came from Wisconsin, Seattle, New York, Texas and many other states and cities throughout the United States. They attended classes, lectures, workshops, athletic events, picnics and dance and music recitals.
The 800 parents, siblings, grandparents and other friends and relatives of USC students were part of Trojan Parents’ Weekend on USC’s University Park Campus Oct. 11 to 14.
“Coming this far, we wanted to spend as much time as possible with our son,” Carol Jendrzejek said of the decision to attend a Medieval Civilization course on Oct. 12.
It had been more than 20 years since Jendrzejek, from Wind Lake, Wis., sat through a college lecture. Sandwiched between her husband, Robert Jendrzejek, and her son, Bill, 19, she gave her full attention to history professor Paul Knoll as he traced the development of medieval Germany from an assortment of tribal groupings into a monarchy.
Bill Jendrzejek said he didn’t suffer measurable angst about having his parents accompany him to class.
“I was just there taking notes, just like usual,” said Bill, a sophomore. “My dad thought the lecture was very good. He said it was good to hear from someone who knew what he was talking about.”
About 20 percent of parents attended at least one of their child’s classes, said Lynn Goodnight, director of summer and special programs. In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the United States, “parents addressed their inner need to be with their students,” she said.
Parents were also entertained. Starting with a lunch and noon pep rally that included Trojan fight songs and the gymnastics of the Yell Leaders and Song Girls and the Trojan Marching Band, parents attended the play “The Scarlet Letter,” a cinema student film festival and the USC vs. Arizona State football game.
Billed in the past as Trojan Family Day or Trojan Family Weekend, this year’s event offered faculty lectures on “Development of Brain Circuits for a Learned Behavior,” “The Actor’s Choice” and “What Is History? Historians, the Founding Fathers and the American Revolution.” Parents also attended workshops on parenting, dorm life, curriculum, financing a university education and off-campus programs.
“We had a huge parental response in terms of the programming; parents made comments that the [workshops and lectures] made it worthwhile to come in for the entire weekend,” Goodnight said. The majority of parents who attended Trojan Parents’ Weekend � 60 percent � live within driving distance of the university; another 20 percent flew in from the East Coast and the rest came from across the country.
David Ford III, a freshman, was cavalier about taking his parents, Joan Sessoms Ford and David Ford Jr. to class with him.
“It was cool because it was just a writing class, plus I’m not trying to hit on anybody in that class,” the 18-year-old fine arts and computer animation major said.
The Fords, who flew in from Dallas, explored the campus and went to as many of the lectures and workshops as they could fit in.
“It reinforced our belief that we made a good decision,” Joan Ford said.
The most popular workshop � Parenting a College Student � drew more than 460 parents.
Jaswant Matharu of Fresno said the weekend activities had several benefits.
“I am really looking forward to hearing President [Steven] Sample’s” speech,” said Matharu, whose son Ajeet is an economics and calculus major. “I read last year’s State of the University speech and I’m looking forward to seeing him in person and hearing his lecture.”
Sample, whose Oct. 12 remarks drew spontaneous applause several times, assured parents that the physical and emotional well-being of their children was the university’s No. 1 priority.
“We are doing all that we can to ensure that USC continues to be a safe community, one where all benefit from a climate of mutual respect, support and cooperation,” Sample said. “Immediately following the [Sept. 11] attack, the USC community came together in caring and compassion, offering help to the victims and their families.”
Sample then outlined the learning opportunities available to students.
“USC students … have the opportunity to learn not only in the classrooms of the university, but also in a much larger classroom � the city of Los Angeles,” he said.
“We’re taking advantage of our location in one of the world’s most dynamic cities, a city renowned for its diversity, as a world leader in the arts, the communications revolution and in emerging fields like biotechnology,” Sample said.
“Our students also are encouraged to participate in more than 300 community outreach programs � the most ambitious public service effort of any university in the country.”
‘Mad Dane’ at the Massman
If 50 parents didn’t know going in to Massman Theatre what deep-focus photography is, they did by the end of Sharon Carnicke’s talk, “The Actor’s Choice,” on the morning of Friday, Oct. 12.
“We don’t often look at actors as choosing what to do with their bodies and voices,” said the professor of Russian drama. “We just respond to what they do.” (Deep-focus photography is a film technique that that puts everything on the screen in equal focus. )
Carnicke made it her aim to train her audience’s eyes to appreciate those choices.
Parents were treated to film clips of three different versions of “Hamlet”: Laurence Olivier’s 1948 effort, in which he starred as the Danish prince and as the voice of the father’s ghost; Tony Richardson’s 1969 take; and Franco Zeffirelli’s 1990s “action flick.”
The portion Carnicke selected for baseline comparison was the famous closet scene between Hamlet and his mother, Gertrude, where Hamlet accuses Gertrude of a bad-faith marriage to the murderer.
Carnicke touched on spatial relationships, gestures and the differences between film and theater acting, among other things.
In closing � after parents had the chance to raise their hands to ask questions and venture thoughts � Carnicke also suggested keeping in mind that the texts of film and theater scripts are open.
“Think of these texts as music scores or notes for performers,” she said. “The music is in the performance.”
Chicagoans Bruce and Barb Eggert � whose daughter, Kaylan, is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism � attended the lecture. Pleased with the trip and experience thus far, Barb said, “It’s been worth the airline hassle. Getting to see USC firsthand has been great.”
That and the Krispy Kreme donuts the pair had for breakfast.
“In Chicago,” Bruce said, “they’re like gold.”
� Inga Kiderra
Bird Brains and a blushing son: parents get a science lesson
In the first round of seminars Friday morning, Oct. 12, parents filed into a small classroom for a lecture titled “Development of Brain Circuits for a Learned Behavior.” Neuroscientist Sarah W. Bottjer, chair of the biological sciences department, proved that she knew something of the subject.
With the brisk confidence born of years spent communicating to undergraduates, Bottjer delivered a compact, slide-filled review of her ongoing research into the neurological basis of song learning in the zebra finch.
“I’m going to talk about the kinds of questions we’re interested in and the kinds of approaches and experiments we do in our lab,” she said, “to understand basic questions about brain development. How do we learn and remember information? What are the basic mechanisms?
“How does the brain wire itself up correctly, with its billions and billions of individual connections between nerve cells, with such exquisite specificity that it can acquire such a rich repertoire of complex behaviors like learning and memory?”
She explained that the finches are an excellent choice of study because the brain wiring that allows them to learn their species’ unique song patterns is � in the relative scheme of neurobehavioral dynamics � tidily organized into functional compartments.
With that she launched into a detailed tour of the bird’s brain, tracing out what she and others have discovered about the learning circuits between its brain regions as it matures into an adult songbird.
Bottjer’s lecture garnered respectful smiles and thoughtful nodding from the parents, whose backgrounds in matters psychobiological were clearly diverse. When Bottjer finished her lecture and solicited questions, some left immediately, but one mother stood up and posed a detailed question about gender-related differences in the brains of different species � using the head of her blushing son as a visual aid.
� Matthew Blakeslee
U.S. history � with a twist on ‘household government’
About 50 USC parents gathered recently to hear a typical college history lecture during Trojan Parents’ Weekend.
But in the end, most agreed that what they were treated to was anything but typical.
The lecture delivered by Carole Shammas, history department chair in USC’s College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, was centered on the Founding Fathers and how their ascent to fortune, if not fame, came mostly from their wives.
Shammas discussed the Founding Fathers’ “household governments” and told a story of how many found their place because of whom they married or consorted with.
In the end, Shammas said, they gained control of their wives’ wealth.
“Even though our Founding Fathers were considered innovators � men who thought outside the box � they were very traditional when it came to their dependents,” Shammas said. ” I’m interested in why they drew the line at the household. Why did they were not equal opportunity individuals?”
Many of the stories are not commonly known. For example, Benjamin Franklin settled into a common-law marriage with the deserted daughter of his boarding housekeeper, who in turn funded his printing business.
After John Adams married Abigail, the daughter of a prominent minister, his wealth and property holdings increased eight times. He is one of the few Founding Fathers to admit his wife’s role: “She saved me from poverty and obscurity.”
Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and George Washington also married into wealth � each rather intentionally. “As to fortune, the bigger the better,” Hamilton said.
“When you look at the Founding Fathers, you see a paradox of freedom when it comes to their household situation,” said Shammas, who is holder of John R. Hubbard Chair in History. To have granted their dependents the same rights they held would have greatly diminished their own power and authority.
Shammas will publish “A History of American Household Government” next year.
Parents agreed that her lecture took a thought-provoking tack. “I want to thank you for the excellent talk,” said one father. “You explained why I am not a wealthy man.”
� Gilien Silsby