Years after earning his degree from USC Aiken, Aiken Public Safety Director Charles Barranco couldn't get over his amazement of serving as the guest speaker at USCA's December graduation ceremony last Thursday.

Yet the alumnus retains an unusual and meaningful connection to the university: From 1991-1993, Barranco worked with the campus police office.

“When I started working the campus security force, it was a unique expense,” he said this week. “I was staying at Pacer Downs and playing soccer while serving as a security officer.”

USCA's new chancellor, Dr. Sandra Jordan, enjoyed her first commencement event and was especially pleased to take part in a tradition that honors an alumnus at each December program. Jordan described Barranco as a wonderful example of the type of citizen leader that the university strives to produce through the liberal arts experience.

“We are proud of him and his accomplishments,” she said. “We are also proud of his leadership in our city through challenging times.”

When he enrolled at USCA on a soccer scholarship, Barranco had every intention of transferring to the main campus in Columbia. Like so many other students over the years, he changed his mind.

Something that stuck out to Barranco was the prominent sculpture that can be seen in front of USCA's Robert E. Penland Administration Building. The “Double Knot” serves as a symbol of the close relationships that emerge on campus and beyond.

“I didn't understand that at first,” Barranco said. “I found I liked going to a small school. I was fortunate to be part of the early years of soccer at USCA and learned a lot of life lessons and made some good friends.”

From the time he joined the campus security office, Barranco knew he would continue in law enforcement. He joined Public Safety as an officer and later was promoted to sergeant in the Special Services Division.

In 2005, he joined the Sheriff's Department as the Homeland Security coordinator. A year later, Barranco was promoted as captain of the county detention center. He returned to Public Safety in January 2012 as the department's director.

During his speech to the university's most recent group of graduates, Barranco encouraged them to establish passion related to their careers.

“You must have a great deal of passion in what you are committed to doing,” he said. “You as an educated, logical thinker have decided to run your own business, and you are starting to put your own business plan together.”

If the graduates talk about their career plans with family and friends, they may discover they're missing the passion they would need. Barranco encouraged the students to find another opportunity they might find more satisfying.

He cited a significant passage from author Nicholas Sparks' novel, “Dear John”: “The saddest people I've ever met are the ones who don't care deeply about anything at all. Passion and satisfaction go hand in hand and without them, any happiness is only temporary, because there is nothing to make it for.”

Again, Barranco referred to USCA's Double Knot sculpture. In a real sense, that work conveys the importance of community events and the efforts of those giving to the community, he said.As a young law enforcement officer, Barranco learned early in his career the value of such service.

“The programs we have in this community continue to amaze me daily,” he said. “(People in) this community are very giving, not only of their money, but of their time and talent as well.”

When people invest in anything, it must be for the right reasons, said Barranco. They should invest in others and community resources without strings attached.

“They are things we do in life that we always don't see immediate satisfaction,” he said. “You may not see anything for two weeks, two months or even two years. However, you must know that your efforts have or will impact someone.”

Senior writer Rob Novit majored in journalism at the University of Georgia. He is a native of Walterboro.