Logo: University of Southern California

Commencement 2009

Viterbi students awarded 2,057 degrees
Bob Calverley
May 18, 2009 —

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It was the best of times, and it was the best of times.  On a bright sunny and mercifully temperate day, the Viterbi School shone brightly at USC’s 126th Commencement, at the Viterbi undergraduate ceremony in Archimedes Plaza and at the school’s graduate ceremony in the Galen Center.

The 162 Viterbi students who received Ph.D. degrees, were half of the total Ph.D.’s awarded by the university.  “An impressive figure for a school of our size,” noted Dean Yannis C. Yortsos.  And the 2,057 degrees awarded to Viterbi scholars comprised a quarter of USC’s total of more than 8,000.

Four hundred and forty-four Viterbi undergraduates received B.S. degrees.  Another 1,451 earned M.S. degrees, 359 of whom completed their degrees through the school’s Distance Education Network.  Forty-nine of the master’s students and 11 of the Ph.D.’s earned perfect 4.0 GPA’s.

 “As a member of the faculty and as an engineer, my final words to you are these,” Yortsos told all of the graduates.  “You have already received the best possible preparation for the 21st century – you are an engineer, and a Viterbi engineer at that.”

The dean outlined the concept of engineering plus – engineering and another discipline – that is spectacularly evident in health where “engineering plus medicine is producing miracles daily.

Derrick Solidum (BSB-ME) was looking
positively tubular

“With your new tools it will be you who will devise the new alternative energy sources, who will solve vexing climate problems, who will master the miracles of biology to eradicate diseases, who will educate and enlighten, and who will help lift millions from poverty, by relighting the engine of economic development,” said Yortsos.

USC Valedictorian Paul VanWieren, who also achieved a perfect 4.0 GPA while earning a B.S. in biomedical engineering with an emphasis on electrical engineering, paraphrased Luke 12:48 when he urged the Class of 2009 to give back.

“From he to whom much has been given, much will be expected, and we have been given much,” he said.  “Let us go, then, and serve humanity as we ride the buses, walk the sidewalks, and bike along the gutters of Los Angeles, or New Orleans, or Baghdad, or Nyala.”

VanWieren’s appeal was echoed by USC’s commencement speaker Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who outlined his six rules for success, with number six being to “give back.”  Warmly received by the 40,000 packed in and around Alumni Park, Schwarzenegger quipped “I haven’t heard applause like that since announced I was going to stop acting.”

Kimberly Boynton, the valedictorian at the Viterbi undergraduate ceremony, said “it is our turn to make an impact” and “as engineers we are the most prepared to make changes to society.”  Boynton earned both B.S. and M.S. degrees in civil engineering through the progressive degree program while still finding time to be the featured baton twirler and a section leader for the Trojan Marching Band as well as a slew of other activities.

Kimberly Boynton was the valedictorian at the undergraduate ceremony.
Both Boynton and VanWieren were from Michigan; Boynton from Troy and VanWieren from tiny Grant, where he worked on a turkey farm during high school.

At the undergraduate ceremony, commencement speaker Sidney Harman, the 89-year-young founder of the famous Harman-Kardon audio company and husband of Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-Venice), who also attended, spoke eloquently, passionately and sometimes humorously for 10 minutes without notes.

“The mind of a Viterbi graduate is a singularly astonishing instrument,” he deadpanned.  “It turns on when you wake up and does not turn off until the commencement address begins.”

He told the new graduates to reverently invent themselves, rejecting orthodoxy, avoiding specialization and embacing the technological changes that have transformed life. “Previously, people lived synchronously, one step after another,” he said.  “The new world is asynchronous with challenges arising in waves and rushes.” 

He closed by reciting a long passage from the poem Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson that concluded with:

“How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!”

Left to right are Kimberly Chau (BA-Accounting)
Elizabeth Hoey (BA-Accounting), Robert Ward
(BSME), Kelly Phillips (BSBME), Sayre Peratta (BS-ME), and Nora Shnorhokian (BSBME).
At the graduate ceremony, Alexis Livanos, corporate vice president and chief technology officer of Northrop Grumman spoke of “the relationship of science and engineering to a life well lived” as first articulated by the ancient Greeks.

“Personally, I think those Greeks were on to something.  They believed that understanding the natural world and understanding how best to live your life were one and the same,” he said.  “Those of you who choose to apply your educations to your lives and your world will be in good company indeed.”