Outside the Box

Illustration of Carol Vassiliadis


Growing up in New York, she loved the seven-minute subway ride into the heart of the city. That’s where Carol Vassiliadis and her mother often attended the opera and ballet, but theater was her true love.

Vasilliadis eventually took to the stage herself, starring first in high school shows and then in college productions at San Diego State University, where she met her late husband, Laki. There she majored in English, minored in speech, jumped into theater and first purchased season tickets, which she still holds, to the Old Globe.

During those years she played a number of lead roles. After college, while working as a high school teacher in Pasadena, she codirected a number of high school productions. Eventually Vassiliadis’ daughter, Melissa ’08, ’14 (MA), followed in her mother’s footsteps. Melissa came to USD in 2004 and wound up majoring in theatre arts and performance studies, where her focus settled on working offstage with lighting, set design and the technical aspects of bringing a show to life.

It was only natural when looking for new ways to support USD that Vassiliadis followed her heart — giving first toward the construction of Mother Rosalie Hill Hall. A subsequent major gift made it possible to renovate the Black Box Theatre, which is now known as the Vassiliadis Black Box Theatre.

“I did it for my daughter,” Vassiliadis says of Melissa, who returned to USD to earn a master’s degree in 2014 in counseling from the School of Leadership and Education Sciences, and now works in the field of education. “She loved the program and loved her classmates, some of
whom went on to perform in places like Chicago and New York.”

Most recently, Vassiliadis gave an additional leadership gift to build USD’s Humanities Center. “I’m a great believer in a classical approach,” Vassilliadis says. “The humanities are the core of every fine university and round out the student experience, putting everything they’ve learned into perspective.”

Brian Clack, a philosophy professor and the head of USD’s Humanities Center, says the gift will transform 3,000 square feet in Serra Hall into a place where students and faculty from across all disciplines can come together to collaborate on projects that enhance the student experience and provide a way to connect with the community.

“The humanities, as we’re focusing on them, is holistic,” says Clack. “This center will allow students to experience firsthand the many ways their studies can affect people — and the strange, sad, beautiful and wondrous experience of being human.”

Clack says the Humanities Center — scheduled to open in Oct. 2016 — will bring together what students are learning in various disciplines in a unified and integrated way.

“We’ll be exploring what it means to be human,” he says. “There is no one answer. Each of us will arrive at our own deeply meaningful definition.” — Krystn Shrieve

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