LAUSD Superintendent King calls on grads to redefine urban education
USC Rossier awards 600 degrees in two commencement ceremonies
By Matthew C. Stevens
Michelle King, the newest superintendent of the second largest school district in the country, offered three challenges to USC Rossier’s Class of 2016 at the Master’s Commencement Ceremony on Friday, May 13.
Be entrepreneurial. Be flexible. And redefine the public’s perception of urban education.
“The specialized knowledge and expertise that you have acquired, and the diploma you are receiving today, will position you to make profound and lasting changes in the world,” said King, who was named superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District in January. “You are embarking on a career in which you will have an opportunity each day to make the lives of others richer and filled with possibility.”
King’s audience included 430 graduates who are embarking on careers as teachers, counselors, administrators and therapists. And for the first time at Rossier, master’s degrees have been awarded in Learning Design and Technology, a program launched in 2014.
“Think about the number of lives you will touch over the next 10, 20, 30, 40 or 50 years,” said Dean Karen Symms Gallagher in her introductory remarks. “That’s impact. That’s power.”
King, who herself is a current Rossier student in the EdD in Educational Leadership program, said that a career in urban education would put graduates on the “forefront of progress.”
“Far from trailing behind, urban school districts are trailblazers for the rest of the country. The diversity that has defined and strengthened urban communities for decades is quickly spreading across the nation,” King said.
King said her district is showing the rest of the country how to seek alternatives to suspensions, how to leverage technology to ensure academic eligibility for undocumented workers, how to be a pacesetter for tolerance by opening gender-neutral bathrooms.
She concluded that a degree from USC Rossier, coupled with an understanding of urban education complexities, would prepare graduates “to disrupt the status quo, defy society’s expectations and shape the future direction of education.”
Redefining urban education as T-shaped scholars
In a separate ceremony held on Thursday, May 12, USC Rossier awarded 170 doctoral degrees in three programs: the PhD in Urban Education Policy, the EdD in Educational Leadership and the Global Executive EdD.
The new PhD graduates are prepared to produce “research of consequence,” said PhD Governance Chair Tatiana Melguizo, associate professor of education, who calls them T-shaped scholars, possessing depth in the subject matter and broad interdisciplinary training.
“These tools will serve you well when you go out into the field to pursue the mission of our school and become positive change agents,” she said.
EdD Governance Chair Lawrence Picus, associate dean for faculty affairs, made the connection between the graduates’ own dreams as educational leaders and their potential impact on students.
“You have the opportunity to share your knowledge and skills with others,” said Picus. “You have the chance to help them define and pursue their dreams.”
“The specialized knowledge and expertise that you have acquired, and the diploma you are receiving today, will position you to make profound and lasting changes in the world.”
—LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King
EdD graduate Trista Beard is heeding this advice well. In June she will begin a new position as associate director for the Norman Topping Student Aid Fund, coordinating high-contact advising and coaching, retention programs, community service and scholarships for low-income first-generation college students at USC. For the past eight years she has been an academic advisor at USC Dornsife.
Beard received a Dissertation Award of Merit for Significant Others in the Lives of Latino First-Generation College Students: How Social Capital Aids Persistence.
“The dissertation project was a labor of love for me,” she said. “I threw myself into it full-force, knowing that if I took advantage of the knowledge and mentorship offered to me by my faculty advisor, Dr. Reynaldo Baca, that I could deliver a high-quality capstone. I am very pleased that this dissertation contributes to the field, and the award of merit inspires me to continue to stay active in the field of practitioner research.”
Three other graduates received Dissertation Awards of Merit: Erin Abshere (EdD), The Relationship Between Employee Value Propositions and Teacher Employment Decisions (Dissertation chair: Dennis Hocevar); Jeffery Knepper (EdD): The Impact of the Mindful Method, Youth Empowerment Seminar (YES! for Schools), on Students’ Self-Efficacy, Self-Regulation, and Academic Performance for Becoming College- and Career-Ready (Dissertation chair: Patricia Tobey); and Jenna Sablan (PhD): No Student is an Island: College Readiness on Guam (Dissertation chair: William Tierney).
Finding your environment
The student speaker at the Master’s Commencement Ceremony, Salman Farooq, recounted his restless quest to find his perfect environment after earning his undergraduate degree six years ago, seeking life’s inspiration by traveling from the mountains of Canada to the deep sea off Hawaii to the streets of Karachi, Pakistan. Then he found Rossier, where he enrolled in the Marriage and Family Therapy master’s program and became a budding therapist.
“It is here, in the comfort of an old Eames chair, in the very city that I grew up in, that I found the transformation I was looking for,” he shared.
“Through my clients,” he continued, “I have vicariously experienced the deaths of 14 parents and 6 grandparents. I’ve battled for the custody of my children and the emancipation of myself from neglectful parents. I have been fired from jobs I was working for 22 years and hired to jobs for which I was extremely unqualified. I’ve experienced the painful awkwardness of 7 pap smears, the crushing anxiety of 18 breakups, the mind-bending horror of a Type 1 schizophrenic dopamine-induced hallucination. I lost God and found him, only to lose him again when my baby died from SIDS. I’ve rekindled the marriage with the love of my life. I found myself.”
His advice to graduates, whether they will be working as therapists, college counselors or fourth grade teachers: “True transformation comes from one thing and one thing only: people. So fellow graduates, go out there. Find your environment. Maybe it’s the lush tropics near Ecuador. Maybe it’s the concrete and neon spiral of midtown Manhattan. Maybe it’s New Jersey. But wherever that place is, make sure of one thing, and one thing above all else: That you’re with people.”
Download the 2016 Commencement Newsletter, a four-page keepsake of the Doctoral and Master’s Commencement Ceremonies. Didn’t receive the newsletter in the mail? Let us know, and we will send you a copy while supplies last.