Logo: University of Southern California

Commencement 2004

Euphoria and Hard-Earned Degrees

May 19, 2004 —

By the Numbers:
  • B.S. degrees 517
  • M.S. degrees 1110
  • Engineer degrees 3
  • Ph.D. degrees 65
  • DEN M.S. degrees 166
  • Janet Tew Hallett, newly minted Ph.D. in aerospace and mechanical engineering, led the graduate procession. Fellow flagbearer Patricia Porto is obscured.
    The Engineering Quad became a profusion of color, noise and euphoric jubilation May 14, 2004, as approximately 2,500 celebrated the 76th annual Viterbi School of Engineering commencement ceremonies.

    Parents wept, siblings cheered, friends hooted and applauded as 1,695 new graduates rejoiced in the crowning moment of their lives.

    The undergraduate ceremony began immediately after the main celebration in Alumni Park. Five-hundred-nineteen undergraduates, dressed in black robes and hoods, emerged from the Seaver Science Center Library and marched double-file onto center stage on the steps of Vivian Hall. The stage was adorned on one side with the school’s banner and its heraldic orange flag, designed with interlinked rings to symbolize the interaction of the profession with science and society. The steps leading up to the podium were draped in freshly picked flowers – roses, carnations and California poppies – and the Quad resonated with the recessional, “Pomp and Circumstance,” as ceremonies got under way.

    Master’s degree and Ph.D. students returned for an afternoon ceremony, which took twice as long for twice as many graduates. In all, 1,178 advanced degrees were conferred. The Viterbi School’s Distance Education Network awarded 166 M.S. degrees, some to out-of-state students who had never been to the USC campus.

    Dean C. L. Max Nikias encourages the class of 2004 to go out and be leaders.
    Janet Tew Hallett, who received her Ph.D. in aerospace and mechanical engineering, and Patricia Porto, who received her M.S. degree in electrical engineering, were the flagbearers for the graduate commencement.

    “Oh my God, look at her,” said one wide-eyed, awestruck young woman as her friend passed in front of the stage to take her seat. “He’s got his back to us,” an admiring mother whispered to her husband, who was snapping pictures left and right. “Wait until he turns around,” she said, then jumped up to wave feverishly at her son.

    “This day represents a milestone in the lives of the young men and women graduating today,” said Dean C. L. Max Nikias. “The recognition being given to them on this occasion has been earned through long hours of studying, solving innumerable homework problems, enduring some impossible quizzes and exams, and even pulling ‘all-nighters.’ This is a day of recognition and celebration!”

    A record number of undergraduate students achieved an academic grade point average of 3.9 or higher this year, Nikias said. But valedictorian Robert Parke, who earned a perfect 4.0 grade point average and a bachelor of science degree in computer engineering/computer science, and a minor in neuroscience, had taken a leadership role in university life and many national collegiate honors societies as well. Parke, also head of his own consulting firm, received an Archimedes Circle Award for excellence in scholarship and university life.

    Valedictorian Robert Parke after commencement with his equally proud mother, Mary Parke.
    “I personally was drawn to engineering because I was excited by technology and its really positive power to profoundly impact people’s lives,” said Parke. “When I was younger, I spent a lot of time in the hospital, and during one particularly long stay, the technician brought in a biofeedback machine. The purpose was for me, the patient, to control pain through the management of body movements, which increases the heart rate. I was hooked instantly.

    “Looking back and trying to draw some meaningful conclusion, other than that, I had an unhealthy obsession for video games,” he joked. “I think I was fascinated with this technology because it was not strictly for entertainment, but rather, it was technology that could actually be used for helping and healing.”

    Parke, a spokesman for the Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation, was awarded a doctoral fellowship in electrical engineering at USC. He challenged his fellow graduates to “improve the quality of life for the world” and for those who are less fortunate.

    “Whatever path you choose – engineering, medicine, business or another field – you must remember to keep focused on giving back to society, and on creating opportunities to help others in the community for whom the doors are seemingly closed,” he said.

    More than 2,500 families and friends crowded into Archimedes Plaza on commencement day to watch the graduates receive their diplomas.
    One by one, the students’ names were called out by Louise Yates, associate dean, Engineering Student Affairs, and Tom Katsouleas, professor of electrical engineering, and they walked across stage to shake hands with Dean Nikias.

    “Your work will increasingly require a sense of moral imagination—the will and ability to include an ethical perspective in the design of powerful new technologies,” Nikias told the students. “As graduates of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, we expect you to lead the way.”

    After it was all over, people mingled in the Engineering Quad to snack and chat. Grads posed in full regalia with friends, family and, sometimes, strangers. One family took a moment to photograph their kindergarten-aged son in his very own Trojan Class of 2004 cap and gown.

    Eric Liu flashes a "V" for graduation and a Lakers victory in the playoffs.
    Eric Liu, given an Order of Troy award for his unique, innovative and creative contributions to student life programs, unzipped his robe to show off a Lakers basketball jersey. He held up his diploma in mechanical engineering and business and flashed a “V” for victory against the San Antonio Spurs.

    “It feels good to have my Ph.D.,” said Paniz Ebrahimi, displaying her diploma in electrical engineering. “I always liked experimental work in optical communications, to see how nature works, so I’m looking for a research position in a research lab, or a postdoc, and later on, a faculty position.”

    Ji Hoon Jang, a master’s degree graduate in civil engineering, was in the “wait and see” mode.

    “I really enjoyed the program here, but I’m waiting to see which Ph.D. programs I get into,” he said. “I’ve applied to programs in structural engineering at Texas A&M, Illinois and USC. So we’ll see.”

    As the day wound down, exhaustion and anticipation quelled the roar of excited families. Some students would be back on Monday to start their summer jobs on campus. Others, like Kevin Black, who received a bachelor of science degree in computer science, would continue the job search,

    Undergraduates pose for a picture after the morning ceremony.
    interviewing at well-known corporations. Still others, like Rachael Walker, awaited word about summer internships before they prepared to enter graduate programs in the fall.

    Robes off, degrees in hand, they scattered with parents and friends in tow, leaving the familiar surroundings of USC to begin their lives as engineers.


    --Diane Ainsworth