Logo: University of Southern California

Commencement 2008: Reed Doucette, USC Salutatorian

The Viterbi School graduating senior, Trojan basketball player and new Rhodes Scholar will be a salutatorian in the university's May 16 commencement ceremony

May 14, 2008 — When you are crowned "Mr. USC" from the exclusive undergraduate organization Order of the Torch, have been a Division 1 basketball player for four years, earned a GPA in the stratosphere from two schools, USC Viterbi and USC Marshall, and are-- oh yes -- only the ninth Trojan in history to be named a Rhodes Scholar for graduate study at the University of Oxford, that's a lot of accolade baggage to carry around.  But Reed Doucette, a cheerful and even-keeled fifth-year senior from Acampo, Calif., wears his many honors lightly, including being one of USC's salutatorians for 2007.
Reed Doucette 1
Reed Doucette  (Philip Channing photo)

In other words, he's a genuinely nice guy. He's focused, but not humorless. (His frequent megawatt smile is one tipoff.)  He's busy, but gives no hint of grimly slogging on an overachiever's treadmill.   
This is a guy who uses time-management skills to the max.  Take the week before finals. This was his hardest semester at USC, Doucette confided, and he had three finals to prepare for and a project or two, including a big group project for the legendary leadership class taught by USC President Steven B. Sample and Marshall School management guru Warren Bennis. He still managed to find time to partake in USC's "fountain run," the end-of-the-year, late-night mass romp from campus fountain to fountain. Finishing at midnight, he parked himself in the computer lab at King Hall until 3:30 a.m., knocking out a control systems report for an engineering class.

"That was brutal," he said with a grin, looking refreshed and happy the next day.

Some took notice of those incredible feats because Doucette was awarded the Eyre Associates Award for outstanding achievement in mechanical engineering at the 2008 Viterbi Undergraduate Student Awards ceremony.

But it's difficult to get him to comment on his unusual success. When pressed, he is modest. "I'm pretty good at seeing where I want to go and working toward it," he finally says. "I want to put myself into a position to take advantage of opportunities. As they say, luck is where preparation meets opportunity."

He'd rather talk about his friends, family, coaches and professors who helped him along the way. For the Rhodes scholarship, he needed six USC nominators. He ticks them off easily: men's basketball coach Tim Floyd, mechanical engineering professor Geoff Spedding, physics professor Doug Burke, former USC statistics professor Catherine Sugar, mechanical engineering professor Andrea Hodge (who was his mentor at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory) and mechanical engineering professor Marijan Dravinski. He also mentions USC Annenberg professor Bryce Nelson, himself a former Rhodes Scholar, who heads USC's international fellowship committee.
On the basketball court.

"I've asked for their advice all along, on academics and for life advice as well. After my parents, they were the first ones I called when I heard about the Rhodes," he said.

His parents, Tom and Barbara, and sister Lauren, who just finished her junior year at the USC Marshall School of Business, should have plenty of time to visit during the three years he will be earning a doctor of philosophy degree in Oxford's Electrical Power Group, studying about renewable energy, energy conservation and solar cells.

Cecil Rhodes, the namesake of the scholarship, was keen on athletics, and the 6'5" Doucette plans to pack his basketball and tennis racquet and would love to find room for his golf clubs so he and his dad could play the Old Course at St. Andrews. He'd like to learn to play cricket, go punting (boating) and generally "soak up" all the experiences the United Kingdom has to offer.

In the meantime, this summer he'd like to sign on with an energy startup company or expand his work with Los Angeles Community Impact, where USC students consulted with nonprofits on business plans and marketing.

"There are a lot of options for making the world a better place," he said.

He has one other goal this summer. By the time he goes to England, Doucette wants to be able to play the Earl Scruggs' finger-flying classic, "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" on his banjo. He's packing his banjo in his suitcase, too.

— Allison Engel