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USC students enjoyed a night of holiday spirit, free food and musical performances in Alumni Park at the Undergraduate Student Government’s Festival of Trees on Monday evening. The event featured the lighting of 15 miniature Douglas Fir trees that represented different organizations within USG. Organizers hoped to provide a space to celebrate the holidays and help alleviate the stress that many students face with the onset of finals. Kathryn Kelly, USG director of marketing, created the event after getting the idea from student exchange with Utah State University.“We have a bunch of student organizations decorating the trees so it represents their organization, their mission and basically how they’re involved on campus,” Kelly said. “We have a lot of fun things to hopefully give students a break on finals week.” The organizations represented included the Environmental Student Assembly, Asian Pacific American Student Assembly, Latina/o Student Assembly, QuASA, Concerts Committee, Black Student Assembly, Residential Student Government, Office of Religious Life, Graduate Student Government, USC Helenes, Undergraduate Student Government and Troy Camp. Cindy Pineda, the executive director of the Latina/o Student Assembly, said that it was important that their culture was represented in the Festival of Trees. “We want to make a presence here and ensure that we do have a community,” Pineda said as she and her assistant director decorated their trees with traditional poinsettia flowers and gold ribbons. “Within our community and assembly, we are able to show some of our culture.”The Office of Religious Life reached out to the USC Interfaith Council so that they would be more representative of all religions. Their tree included references to the major religions at USC on paper chains. Marla Ross, a sophomore majoring in cognitive science who helped decorate the Troy Camp tree, was excited about the holiday spirit. “It’s very festive, especially for people who don’t go home for the holidays, and I’m glad that we get to have a tree, because it’s an organization that means a lot to us,” Ross said. Students who attended the event could participate in numerous activities including a bounce house, do-it-yourself crafts, cookie decorating, a photo booth and a screening of Elf. They also lined up for free holiday mugs, sprinkles cupcakes and hot chocolate.Senior Advisor of the USG Executive Board Riyana Chakraborty, a senior majoring in international relations and global business, said that this was one of the best USG events she’s been to.“I think this event is one of USG’s finest, to be quite honest, and I’ve attended a lot of events hosted by USG,” Riana said. “I think it’s really special that they’re incorporating the holiday spirit.”Many attendees agreed that the event accurately portrayed the holiday spirit, including freshman neuroscience major Dominic Mogue. “This event has been great. It’s so festive. I’m having so much fun,” Mogue said. “The highlight was definitely hearing ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You,’ because that’s my favorite Christmas song.”A group of three freshman architecture students all enjoyed different aspects of the Festival of Trees and were glad they were able to come together.“I really like the Christmas trees because they are beautiful and magical,” Virginia Leopard said. “I liked that they were real because they smelled really good.” She also enjoyed the bounce house, free food and Christmas music. Mary Perez, the second of the three, loved the bounce house because “[She] was with [her] two best friends,” she said, much to the celebration of the other two. But Charlene Ko thought waiting in line was the highlight of the event.“Even though we had to wait, it was fun, because we were waiting with friends,” Ko said.Erin McCeormick, a master’s student in social work, appreciated one tree in particular.“I think my favorite is the one with the Chinese lanterns and the snowflakes on it,” McCeormick said, even though she missed most of the event. “If I had the chance I would go to every part of this event next year.”Students can stop by on their way to class to see the trees, which will be on display until Dec. 2.
A year ago, Aundrey Walker was big — really big. He weighed in at 375 pounds — the heaviest of anyone on the Trojans’ roster by about 35 pounds.The sophomore offensive tackle felt all 375 pounds, too.“By the fifth play I would be gasping for air,” said Walker, who appeared in 11 games for USC last season.But this spring, Walker has felt lighter than usual after shedding nearly 60 pounds during the offseason from December to March. Credit a new and improved diet filled with meats and vegetables.“He’s completely different,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “When you lose 60 pounds, you move a little bit better.”Photo courtesy of Sports InformationA more nimble Walker, who is now listed at 320 pounds, has battled junior Kevin Graf to secure the Trojans’ starting left tackle spot — a position vacated following Matt Kalil’s decision to enter the NFL draft.For the time being, though, it appears as if the position will be occupied by Walker, who has been tasked with protecting senior quarterback Matt Barkley’s blind side.Last week, Kiffin announced that the Cleveland native would remain at left tackle for the foreseeable future and at least for the duration of spring practice, which culminates with Saturday’s annual spring game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.“He fits better over there with his length and his size,” said the Trojans’ third-year coach. “When you look at prototypical left tackles, that’s what they’re built like. Hopefully he can get used to it over there.”If anything, Walker will have to get used to life on the left side, as replacing Kalil, who projects to be a top-five pick in this month’s draft, won’t be easy.A season ago, Kalil was instrumental in paving the way for senior tailback Curtis McNeal, who ran for 1,005 yards on only 145 carries. Perhaps just as impressively, Kalil was a part of an offensive line that allowed just eight sacks all season.Walker is aware of the challenge.“It’s a blessing,” Walker said. “It’s a great opportunity to play left tackle after Matt Kalil. I’ve got some big shoes to fill.”Nonetheless, through just a handful of spring workouts, Walker appears to have a solid grasp on the position following the often talked about open competition with Graf.For the first week of spring practice, Graf started at left tackle, while Walker was inserted at right tackle. For the second week, they switched positions, and though Kiffin initially said they would rotate over the subsequent weeks, they haven’t exactly done that.Meanwhile, Graf has taken recent events in stride.“I’m going out there and doing what the coaches ask me as hard as I can every day — no matter where they put me,” said Graf, who started 12 games at right tackle last season. “I’m taking it one day at a time.”Walker has said similar things.“The goal was to help the team in any way possible and to just get on the field,” he said. “I’m still working to get better.”Despite his left tackle frame at 6-foot-6 and 320 pounds, Walker is at left tackle full-time for the first time in his career.A season ago, as a freshman, he was a backup on the offensive line, rotating in at a couple spots, and also played on special teams. In high school at Glenville High in Cleveland, he played right guard for a run-oriented team — contrasting the Trojans’ pro style offense, which often relies on the passing game and the left tackle as a result.“The first day was kind of iffy,” Walker said about his new position. “Over the course of the days, I have felt more comfortable and I feel like I’m doing well.”Similarly, Graf is adjusting to life on the right side.“I feel comfortable at both,” Graf said. “I feel more comfortable at left, but I know I can play right tackle, too. You’re still protecting the quarterback and not letting him get hit.”But no matter how comfortable both suggest they are on opposite ends of the offensive line, Kiffin insists the two have plenty of catching up to do, calling both tackle positions a “work in progress.”Luckily, it’s still spring.“I’m going to keep working,” Walker said. “Those words are motivating me to maintain the spot.”