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Pomp and Pageantry: Commencement Day 2007

1,762 beaming Viterbi School graduates seize the day

May 11, 2007 — This day was for them.  All 1,762 Viterbi School undergraduate and graduate students, assembled for a festive day of pomp and pageantry on the best day of their lives.

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They gathered for two satellite ceremonies in Archimedes Plaza, the heart of the engineering school, to celebrate the completion of their college careers with family, friends, faculty and administrators.  In addition to the 480 undergraduate engineering degrees conferred during the morning ceremony, 1,282 graduate students were awarded their degrees in an early afternoon celebration. That included a record-breaking 272 master's degrees from the Viterbi School’s Distance Education Network (DEN) — up 30 percent from last year's totals — and 142 Ph.Ds.

"The USC Viterbi School of Engineering is now 101 years old, and you are the first graduating class of our second century,” said Viterbi School Dean Yannis C. Yortsos. “I truly believe that for all the scientific advancements made during our first 100 years, the world will look back on that time as just a prelude to the age of marvels we are moving into now.”

Applause thundered throughout the quad, drowning out the noise of other school’s satellite ceremonies nearby. Undergraduate students, dressed in the traditional black caps and gowns, cheered on the platform in front of Vivian Hall, which was draped in burgundy salvia and bolero marigolds.  Balloons bobbed in the late morning air and proud parents jumped up sporadically to snap photos of their sons and daughters. Families who had traveled great distances — some from halfway across the world — watched as their sons and daughters rejoiced. 
Rachel Bitton, center, earned a PhD in biomedical engineering.

Flag and banner bearers Zenzile Brooks, MSCE ’07, and Albert Mangahas, MSAME ’07, carried the heraldic flag and school banner, leading students out to the stage from Seaver Science Library.  All eight department chairs and the school’s one division were seated on stage, dressed in traditional academic regalia. Also participating in the honors were Louise Yates, associate dean of admissions and student affairs, and Ron Blackwelder, professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering, who waited on the sidelines to announce the degree candidates. Viterbi School valedictorian Tricia Gibo, who earned a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering, congratulated fellow students in brief opening remarks, then turned the ceremony over to Dean Yortsos.

“Commencement is a wonderful time of the year.  For all of us, it is the culmination of a year of relentless efforts in teaching and research,” he said.  “Students will graduate and carry with them all the rich experiences they accumulated over all these years, from their interactions with our faculty in teaching and in research. In the fall new students will join us, and this cycle will recommence… It is this renewal process — the farewell to the graduates and the welcome to the new ones— that we are
Mohammed Al Kayyalibrahim, MSEE, and a future Trojan.
celebrating today.

“The world – your world – grows more complex each day, and so do the challenges and opportunities unfolding before you,” Yortsos said. “But don’t worry.  You picked the right major for your times… and you have been equipped with the best toolkit for the 21st century.

“With your engineering knowledge of what makes the world work, you are ready for anything,” he said. “Viterbi graduates are as adept at designing a company as they are at designing a rocket engine or a computer chip. And they are as ready to pursue a career in business or medicine or law or public policy as a career in engineering itself.

“Wouldn’t it be great to have people in public policy who know how to make things work?” Yortsos asked.

A record number of undergraduate students achieved 3.9 grade point averages or higher, Yortsos said, but one stood out above them all.  Valedictorian Tricia Gibo, who earned higher than 3.9, received the Eyre Associates Award for Outstanding Achievement
Selassie Daniel Ahorlu MS EE (center) with his parents.
in Mechanical Engineering and the Archimedes Circle Award for Outstanding Achievement in Scholarship, as well as several honorary society awards. 

Gibo, who will enter Johns Hopkins University this fall, spoke about the many challenges — and the many opportunities — her fellow engineers will have as they go out into a world that is growing increasingly complex.

Returning to the stage, Yortsos echoed the message.
“In the new century engineering will flourish in …exciting new areas: nanotechnology, quantum computing and molecular electronics… which promise unprecedented new materials and devices, in biomedical, biochemical technologies and nanomedicine, that will give us the knowledge that we will require to cure diseases, develop alternative energy resources, manage natural resources and ensure environmental quality… all of immense importance in the global world we live,” he said.

“Engineering is also emerging as an enabling technology throughout the arts and sciences,” Yortsos added. “It will help solve up-to-now intractable problems in cognitive sciences, the science of learning… even social and political sciences. Let me congratulate you.” 

He congratulated the school for moving into seventh place — along with Caltech — in the U.S. News and World Report rankings of top engineering schools in the country, and encouraged students to pursue careers that inspire them. “The flatter the world gets, the more essential it is that you do what inspires you and what fulfills you,” he said.
Dennis Lee, MSEE, and his brother Tony.

After the ceremonies, graduates gathered with their families and friends to enjoy hors d’oeuvres and conversation. 

“Feels great to finish and get out there and earn some money,” said Dennis Lee, who earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering through DEN.  Lee planned to take an internship in Taiwan over the summer before returning to look for a fulltime job. 

“I guess it hasn’t sunk in yet, it still seems surreal,” said Brenda Zapf, who is director of quality assurance at Boeing Corp. in El Segundo, CA. 

Rachel Bitton, who earned a PhD in biomedical engineering, intimated that she wouldn’t mind staying at USC for her post-doc.  “Well, anywhere in California, but here would be great,” she laughed.  

Oh, and by the way, for all of those potential university employers out there….her expertise is medical imaging and high-frequency ultrasound imaging.   

INTELLIGENT AGENTS — Five newly minted computer science PhDs are part of an exciting new subfield of artificial intelligence, called “intelligent agents.” Agents are robots, or software bots on the Web, and intelligent characters in video games. The students’ PhDs were focused on multi-agent systems, in which these intelligent agents interact with each other or with people. Left to right: Emma Bowring, Nathan Schurr, Jonathan Pearce, Praveen Paruchuri and Pradeep Varakantham.  Professor Milind Tambe is in the center in the black robe.