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Fight (and Celebrate) On! 2010 Commencements Fill Campus with Smiles

The USC Viterbi School of Engineering Awards More than 2,000 New B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. Diplomas

May 17, 2010 —

The 105-year-old Viterbi School of Engineering fought on brilliantly at its undergraduate ceremony in Archimedes Plaza and at the graduate ceremony in the Galen Center.

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Standard bearers Neilsen Bernardo (EE) and Viry Martino (Civil)
More than 2,000 students received B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. degrees.

“As you prepare to enter the 'real world,' remember that it grows more complex each day, and so do the challenges and opportunities unfolding before you,” Viterbi Dean Yannis Yortsos told the graduates. “But don’t worry," he continued. “You have studied the right disciplines for your times… and you have been equipped with the best toolkit for the 21st Century.”

Two exceptional Viterbi B.S. diploma recipients, both women, were on the podiums at both the main USC commencement and the Viterbi undergraduate satellite ceremony.

More Viterbi Commencement Stories:

Photo slide show
  Dean Yannis Yortsos' Remarks
  An Army officer completes his master's partly from Afghanistan
  Andrew J. Viterbi Youtube tribute
  Three Outstanding Ph.D. Theses
  Honors, honors, honors!
  Liana Ching, USC Valedictorian
  Liana Ching valediction
  A 19-Year Old M.S.Degree Winner
  Commencement Speakers
  Natasha Naik Viterbi valediction

USC Valedictorian Liana Ching, a chemical engineering major bound for graduate study at Stanford told the packed audience at Doheny plaza first her uneasiness (" Am I grown up now? To which I answered, nope. But I’m about to put on a cap & gown, stand in front of 40,000 people, and pretend."), and then her hopes and dreams.

"We will leave USC filled with new perspective, knowledge, ambition, and satisfaction that could not have been acquired without an openness to change. Aside from all the discrete bits of knowledge, college has taught us to embrace the unknown in order to learn and grow. We have discovered pieces of ourselves that cannot be compromised, which we will carry with us in all our journeys. And though we may wander, not all who wander are lost."

Viterbi Valedictorian Natasha Naik’s speech was preceded by an introduction from the dean detailing undergraduate student honors (see complete list), in which her name was mentioned repeatedly, as a Presidential Scholar, as a Renaissance Scholar, an Archimedes Circle Award winner, an Emma Josephine Bradley Bovard award winner, and as an associate editor of Illumin Magazine.

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Natasha Naik, Viterbi valedictorian
Naik's speech was personal, reaching back to childhood when she yearned to be a super-heroine: “It was only much later that I realized there are other ways to be a hero and to change the world with the things you do – one that doesn’t involve flying around in a bright yellow spandex suit. It’s called being a Trojan engineer.” Among the elements of world-changing: “Having your very own three-letter acronym on a building. Even Iron Man doesn’t have that.”

At the undergraduate ceremony, commencement speaker Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot whose skill and courage saved the lives of 155 passengers after his plane lost power and crash landed in the Hudson River in January 2009, told students to focus and persevere.

Sullenberger started by talking about two gifts he said he received from his mother, “a lifelong love of reading and of learning. With these gifts,” he said, “you can learn anything.”

Passion is key, Sullenberger said, driving constant improvement. “This is something I have tried to do my whole life: to always make the next flight better than the last one. I challenge you to do the same: make your next design better than your last one.”

Dean Yortsos and Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger
And for this, he continued, “At the end of our lives, I think it’s unlikely that we will be counting our money or cataloguing the toys we have accumulated. Instead, we are probably going to ask ourselves a question: 'Did I make a difference?' My wish for each of you is that the answer to that question will be yes.”

At the graduate ceremonies in Galen Center, the Dean hailed two students who had completed their studies — or at least part of their studies — from afar. Leonardo Gustavo Puecher

Capt. Matthew Smith, M.S., EE. (Jon Vidar photo)
received an M.S. in Smart Oilfield Technologies for a course of studies he followed in Buenos Aires, Argentina, via  the school's Distance Education Network.(DEN). And Captain Matthew Smith, (U.S. Army) completed part of his course work for an M.S. in electrical engineering while on active duty in Afghanistan.

The Dean also saluted the six scholars who received awards for excellence in graduate work.

The three Arete awards recognizing outstanding individual M.S. leadership went to Elea Grotter, who studied Engineering Management, and Alison Lind and Kyle Patterson, both studying Civil Engineering.

The three winners of prizes for exceptional thesis work were Ashok Patel and Jonghye Woo, both in Electrical Engineering, and Jing Jin, in Computer Science.

Don Paul, the graduate ceremony commencement speaker followed a Ph.D. from M.I.T with a 33-year career at Chevron before retiring as chief technology officer in 2008 – and coming to USC, where he is the director of the University of Southern California Energy Institute while also holding the William M. Keck Chair in Energy Resources.

Don Paul: "See problems as opportunities." (Jon Vidar photo)
He spoke to the graduates about the ability of engineers to “build new realities,” and about their near unique status in a world of growing complexity: “Engineers understand complexity.”

He went beyond the job description to talk to the graduates about “what makes a great engineer?” and defined it as the ability to be both visionary and practical – to see a promising possibility, and then to actually realize that possibility, “to see the road and figure out how to go down it, to see problems as opportunties.”

“Be a great engineer,” he concluded. “It’s the most important job there is.”

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Galen Center filled with students and family and friends. (Click on the image to see a slideshow)