On a spring evening in 1979, Silvia Siboldi took her first steps into the garden at Via Piaggio 14, a villa perched on a hillside in Genoa, Italy.
The young woman could have looked out toward the sea and seen her city laid out before her, but she never could have imagined how that moment, that party and that place would change the landscape of her life.
Across an ocean, nearly four decades later, Silvia Siboldi Carroll was formally named an honorary alumna of Clemson University during a dinner ceremony Sept. 27 at the Madren Center.
She was recognized for her years of devoted service as the administrative director of the Charles E. Daniel Center for Building Research and Urban Studies. The center forms part of the Fluid Campus at the Clemson University School of Architecture, along with Barcelona, Charleston and the main campus in Clemson.
The “Villa” in Genoa – and Silvia – have meant the world to generations of Clemson’s undergraduate architecture and landscape architecture majors, minors, graduate students and visiting faculty.
With this honor, Carroll joins the ranks of just over 200 honorary alumni of Clemson University. The Clemson University Alumni Association reserves honorary alumnus status for individuals who have been nominated by Clemson peers for their outstanding service, lifelong devotion and loyalty to the University.
Since opening in 1973, the Villa has been a home away from home to more than 1,500 Clemson students during their studies in Italy.
Carroll joined the staff in 1982, becoming its administrative director in 1995.
In this role, she addresses maintenance of the facility owned by the Clemson Architectural Foundation, along with serving the needs of the staff and the changing assortment of 20 or so students who study there each academic term. With warmth and grace, Carroll serves as manager, legal representative, social director, tour guide, translator, counselor, cultural ambassador and more.
She even tends the Villa garden where she first met her husband, Mark Carroll, when he was a Clemson graduate student.
The Carrolls now live just down the street, a few doors away from the Villa where she has become a legend, icon and life force.
“We always try to improve,” she said. “We see what we can do to make the experience there as rewarding as possible.”
Carroll said she has been very careful not to stray from the initial philosophy behind the Charles E. Daniel Center. The Villa was meant to be more than an American outpost of an American university. The idea was that traveling students would gain not only a rich education, but also a full cultural experience.
“For them it has to be like living with an Italian family,” she said. “That has never changed.”
The extended family at the Villa includes a cook, the cleaning and maintenance staff, instructors from Italy, the current Professor-in-Residence Henrique Houayek and professors from Clemson, including Dan Harding, who leads the six-week summer program for architecture minors.
The Villa party
Another thing Carroll maintains is the longstanding tradition of the Villa party.
Once each semester, the students gather with a large group of locals: Italian architects; university students from Genoa; representatives from the U.S. Consular Agency and immigration office, local business people, the Villa doctor, friends of the program and other people closely involved in “the Villa life.”
For students, the party is one of the key experiences of their time at the Villa.
Last March, the Villa party celebrated the program’s 45th anniversary.
For Carroll, the summer party proved equally memorable.
Carroll had been asked to participate in a “technological check.” School of Architecture Director Kate Schwennsen appeared on a video link, then several professors joined in and then representatives from the Clemson University Alumni Association were on the phone. “I really was confused,” Carroll said.
She was told she was being named an honorary alumna of Clemson University, and the Villa party was in her honor.
“They completely surprised me,” she said. “I was completely speechless.”
The Clemson party
In September, Silvia and Mark Carroll and their son David Carroll traveled to Clemson, where she was honored at a dinner attended by about 100 architecture alumni, faculty, friends and University officials.
Asheley Scott St. John, president of the Clemson Architectural Foundation, spoke about “the power of Silvia” and compared her to glamorous celebrities.
The introduction was followed by a salute from John Jacques, professor emeritus, past chair of the School of Architecture, president emeritus of the Clemson Architectural Foundation and a professor-in-residence in Genoa for terms in 1978, 1979 and 1992.
“She is one with the place,” Jacques said.
“For all of us in the room this evening, the Charles E. Daniel Center in Genoa is a very special place, a place of immense vitality, a place to which we each return, if only in our minds, for sustenance in our professional and daily lives,” Jacques said. “We tend to go back again and again and again to this place, this lively Villa…”
With a certificate, a standing ovation and the presentation of a Clemson class of 2018 ring, Silvia Siboldi Carroll became an honorary alumna of Clemson University.
Carroll had been nominated to receive the honor and had the application endorsed in glowing terms by a host of alumni and university officials, including Schwennsen, Clemson President Emeritus James F. Barker and Richard E. Goodstein, dean of the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities.
“Even though Silvia Carroll has spent most of her career in Genoa, she is a Clemson person in her heart and in everything she does,” Barker wrote.
“In my 35 years on the faculty of Clemson University, I cannot think of anyone more deserving of this recognition,” Goodstein said.
The evening closed with Carroll thanking everyone for being there to celebrate with her.
She said that when she thinks back to the Villa’s history, she imagines it as a genealogical tree, with the wise founders of the Charles E. Daniel Center taking the place of initial ancestors.
“I can also imagine it as a tree of life where the trunk is solid and has robust roots, and the branches are made of all the people who have worked at it and the leaves are the students,” she said. “Imagine thousands of branches and thousands of leaves. They change constantly with the season. They will eventually fall to leave the tree, but new fresh leaves will grow to substitute them.”
Carroll said her career at the Villa has allowed her to meet famous architects, writers and artists. But, she said, it has been a discovery in other ways.
“I was not told of the affection that I would have received from the students, the overwhelming esteem, mutual respect, friendship and affection that came from people I’ve been working with, and many more,” she said.
“You might be here to celebrate me tonight, but you should know that I’m here to thank all of you… Thank you Clemson, thank you Clemson Architectural Foundation, thank you Clemson Alumni Association for this honorary recognition – and for all of this.
“Or, as I would say in my own language, Grazie!”
The Clemson Alumni Association is accepting nominations for honorary alumni. The honor is intended for “steadfast Tiger supporters whose blood runs orange, but who never attended Clemson.” For information on the selection process and nominating forms, see the Alumni Association website.
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