Tradition and modernity mix at centennial graduation

May 15, 2019

More than 800 USC Rossier students receive a degree in 2019

By Ross Brenneman

Professor Zoë Corwin (center) celebrates Commencement with Marissiko Wheaton PhD '19 and Arely Acuña Avilez PhD '19

Professor Zoë Corwin (center) celebrates Commencement with Marissiko Wheaton PhD ’19 and Arely Acuña Avilez PhD ’19. (Photo/Brian Morri)

In one hand, Rui Chen, an MAT-TESOL student, grips a flag of yellow, white and sky blue, while in the other hand she’s trying to answer her phone, here in the last few minutes before she’ll lead a column of masters students into their Commencement ceremony.

The air around her is electric—a mass of almost-alumni ready to graduate as USC Rossier’s centennial class. One hundred years have changed this event: more graduates, more diversity and of course, more smartphones. But the atmosphere is surely a constant, a mingling of jubilation and anxiety, a feeling of how exciting! and also but then what?

More than 560 students have earned master’s degrees this year, and 302 students earned their doctorates, graduating a day apart from each other.

“I’m the first in my family to be graduating with a doctorate,” says La Verne Schoonover EdD ’19, of the Organizational Change and Leadership program. “It’s an honor to be representing my family and serving as a role model.”

Her fellow OCL graduate Ulises Garcia EdD ’19 says he didn’t speak a word of English when he first immigrated to the United States: “I want to change the system to get other kids like me an opportunity to reach their goals.”

Whatever students’ reasons for coming to USC Rossier, they’re now all sharing in the same “rights, privileges and responsibilities” of a Trojan degree, and the preparation to use that degree well.

As Karen Symms Gallagher, the Emery Stoops and Joyce King Stoops Dean of USC Rossier, tells the graduates: “Missions are accomplished when education leaders like you have the courage to insist on change, and the skills and knowledge to deliver it for the students and communities you serve.”

Masters students get additional words of advice from three speakers: Board of Councilors member Cindy McCain ’76 MS ’78, flipped classroom guru Salman Khan and teacher Steven Spencer MAT ’18. They have different messages, but all find agreement on one thing: When the anxiety inevitably comes, remember what all this work was for.

“You’re optimizing for purpose, you’re optimizing for impact,” Khan says. “What’s powerful about that is when you have moments of insecurity and doubt, you can turn to that purpose.”

When the ceremonies end, the new alumni flock to their family and friends. They grab some food and take some final group photos for posterity and/or social media.

And finally, their energy spent, the graduates go home to rest. They’ll need it—there’s a lot to do next.

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