Logo: University of Southern California

Commencement 2008: Julianne Gale, USC Valedictorian

A computer science graduating senior will represent the Viterbi School in university's main commencement ceremony

May 14, 2008 — Julianne Gale is living proof that trying to cubbyhole people is a waste of time.

She defies categorization. An academic superstar in computer science, she is also an experienced actress (her starring roles have included Ariel in The Tempest and Anne in The Diary of Anne Frank).

A speech coach and prize-winning orator with more than 150 trophies on her mantle, she spent nearly three years working in tech support for USC Trojan Housing. An edgy filmmaker and performance artist, she's also an innovative 4th-grade science teacher.
Julianne Gale 1
Julianne Gale     (Andre Andreev photo.)

The Class of 2008 valedictorian recognizes and clearly revels in the many facets and seeming contradictions of her personality. "An American-Chinese Jew, a lifelong learning teacher" is how she described herself in the essay that recently helped clinch a prestigious 2008 Renaissance Scholar Prize. "I live," she wrote in that essay, "not in many separate places but in an entirely new place - a place of deep connections and interdisciplinary collaboration."

Gale studies Mandarin Chinese and the programming language C++. Her stage combat skills include swords and daggers, quarterstaff and hand-to-hand. She speaks Spanish and excels at contact improvisation - a style of dancing that involves maintaining a constant, rolling contact point between two or more artists.

A couple of months ago at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering's spring art festival, she shared the top creative prize with her documentary, Who Am I? Trans Identity in Los Angeles.

The film explored the lives of five transgender Angelenos and won an interdisciplinary award at the 2005 Undergraduate Symposium for Creative and Scholarly Work. Gale, who formerly headed a group called Gay and Straight People, won a prize for "most gutsy performance" in a USC Viterbi talent show last fall with a monologue titled "Why Is Lennon Wearing a Skirt?"

With her 3.99 GPA, Gale could have gone to the graduate school of her choice, studying any subject she liked. She is working on her teaching credential instead.

"I'm really interested in teaching for social justice and social change," said Gale, an ardent admirer of the liberation pedagogy of Brazilian education theorist Paulo Freire and Augusto Boal of the Theatre of the Oppressed.

In addition to her major in computer science/engineering and her two minors in general theatre and theatre education, Gale - who is a fifth-year senior - is working on a master of arts in teaching through USC's Rossier School of Education. (She'll complete the program in 2009, at which point Gale said she will look for a teaching job.)

Even without the credential, she's already a teacher. Working through STAR Education Inc., a Culver City-based company, Gale currently teaches science at the Marquez Charter Elementary School in Pacific Palisades.

"I've put on plays with my kids. I've sung songs with them. Whatever excites them, I use that as a hook, or an entryway, into the material they should learn."

Teaching hasn't been easy. "I never realized how much more work it is to be a teacher than to be a student," Gale confessed. "There's no rest for the teacher. I teach four classes a day, three days a week. You're on, on, on the whole time. You can't have a bad day, can't be sick."

She draws inspiration from USC teachers who have "most deeply shaped me" - Michael Crowley from computer science, Brent Blair from theatre, Alan Rucker from cinematic arts and Gene Bickers from physics.

Raised in Dedham, Mass., Gale attended the prestigious Milton Academy from kindergarten through 12th grade.

"My whole life I've known that I wanted to do something right brain and something left brain," she said, crediting much of her success to her parents, both physician administrators in Boston.

"I honestly believe that I have the best parents in the world," she said, "and when I have kids - and I do want to have kids - I want to raise them the way I was raised. They shaped me, taught me to question, to respect, to think." 

— Diane Krieger