At commencement, graduates are called to lead the nation

May 16, 2017

Graduation of first OCL class, speeches by prominent figures top two ceremonies

By Ross Brenneman

Online student Lena Aloumari MAT ’17 addresses her fellow graduates at commencement, calling on them to be advocates for the marginalized. All photos by Brian Morri for USC Rossier.

For a moment, the students who graduated from the USC Rossier School of Education this past week could take a deep breath, laugh and rejoice in their triumphs.

Yet as they readied to join the new ranks of educators, or to put new knowledge and skills to use in old roles, they were reminded: Heavy is the head that wears the mortarboard.

Students graduated from 11 programs total this year—four that hooded doctors (on Thursday) and seven that awarded master’s degrees (on Friday).

Allyson Felix BS ’08

Difference makers

The 411 master’s students were reminded that the “rights, privileges and responsibilities” with which they were conferred aren’t just local in scope.

They heard that message from Allyson Felix ’08, a daughter of teachers, and someone who, as a nine-time Olympic medalist, understands what it means to represent her nation.

“Through the lives that my parents impacted, I understood how important the work that you all are about to embark on truly is,” she said. “You all are difference makers and you are prepared—you have been trained well.”

They heard that message from Michael Bennet, who, as a U.S. Senator from Colorado, knows what it means to think on a national scale.

“What all Americans need to come to understand in this century is that the fate of our democracy lies in your classroom,” Bennet said. “That the crisscrossing paths of our children will be America’s future and that your work provides our greatest chance to fulfill the founders’ great hope that out of many will become one.”

They heard the message from Lena Aloumari MAT ’17, an online student and the daughter of immigrants, who as an Arab-American Muslim woman—an “extremely hyphenated identity,” as she put it—has felt the weight of trying to fit into a country that doesn’t always embrace her.

“Be someone who is an advocate for us hyphenated folk because ‘liberty and justice for all’ means just that,” Aloumari implored of her fellow graduates.

Hooded as doctors

Two hundred and twenty doctoral students graduated Thursday with no less an affirmation of their role on the world stage.

“Your research will transform teaching practices in countless classrooms and influence higher education policies on college campuses,” said Dean Karen Symms Gallagher. “Your leadership overseeing large and complex districts will have real-world consequences for students—from children experiencing the thrill of learning how to read to high school seniors seeking to be the first in their families to go to college.”

The graduates weren’t waiting for commencement to begin demonstrating their leadership, however.

This year marked the graduation of the first OCL class. The program was launched in 2015.

This year marked the first graduating cohort from the Organizational Change and Leadership program, launched at USC Rossier in January 2015. Gallagher praised the students for being pioneers at a dinner the night before their commencement.

This year marked the graduation of Federick Ngo, a fifth-year PhD student who received the prestigious USC PhD Achievement Award, given to only six graduate students every year.

And whereas she delivered the commencement address at the 2016 master’s degree ceremony, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Michelle King EDL ’17 sat among the graduates this year.

Four doctoral students also received dissertation awards of merit:

  • Daniel J. Almeida PhD ’16 won for his dissertation, The Intersection of Grit and Social Capital: A Mixed Methods Examination of Successful First-Generation College Students, chaired by Professor of Higher Education William G. Tierney.
  • Karen Keolani Alejado EDL ’17 won for her dissertation, Exploring the Reflective Practices of Secondary, In-Service Teachers of Students From Diverse Backgrounds, chaired by Associate Professor of Clinical Education Paula M. Carbone.
  • Deanna Ing Campbell EDL ’17 won for her dissertation, Perspectives of Native American Community College Students, chaired by Assistant Professor of Clinical Education Artineh Samkian.
  • Stuart Dewayne Cleek EDL ’17 won for his dissertation, Perceptions of Campus Racial Climate and Sense of Belonging in Faith-Based Institutions: Differences by Ethnicity, Religiosity and Faith Fit, chaired by Associate Professor of Clinical Education Ruth Gim Chung.

And all students—master’s and doctoral—had the honor to move their tassels to the correct sides of their heads, exiting their respective ceremonies to greet their families, exuberant and ecstatic.

Photos from both the doctoral hooding and the master’s degree ceremony can be seen on the USC Rossier Flickr account and through the USC Rossier Facebook pageView the commencement brochure.

Additional Speeches

USC Rossier Commencement 2017: Allyson Felix


USC Rossier Commencement 2017: Lena Aloumari