Logo: University of Southern California

Commencement 2008

At Archimedes Plaza and Galen Center, caps, gowns and smiles

May 17, 2008 —

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Archimedes Plaza was in full bloom on May 16, a bright and warm Southern California morning, just perfect for the Viterbi School's annual undergraduate commencement ceremony.  Nearby the new Galen Center, in its first use as a Viterbi School graduate commencement venue, offered a cool refuge from the heat of the afternoon, along with high-tech visuals.

And at USC's main commencement ceremony in Alumni Park, the Viterbi School has rarely shone brighter. Both USC Valedictorian Julianne Gale and USC Salutatorian Reed Doucette were from the Viterbi School of Engineering.

Parents, families and friends began to migrate to Archimedes Plaza after the main ceremony. By 10:30 a.m., the seats were filled, the cameras were flashing, and people chatted excitedly, just waiting for the ceremony to begin.  Ryan MacKai, a mechanical engineering graduate, grabbed his aunt’s hand-held fan and used it to cool his face. Those who could ducked into shady spots under tree.  But the anticipation and excitement of this capped and gowned crowd was palpable as they waited with great joy and pride to reposition their tassels.
On a sweltering day, the graduate ceremony in Galen Center offered an air-conditioned refuge, perfect sight lines, and a video closeup of the program - here, Fariborz Maseeh's commencement address.

An assembly of 453 students from 11 engineering disciplines in nine departments were lauded as the highest achieving class in the history of the school. A record number of students earned a GPA of 3.9 or higher. They received their diplomas and walked with dignity across the stage to shake hands with a beaming dean and their department chairs.

Yortsos described the continual process of renewal he observes year after year as one class goes off into the world and he receives the next group of capable, hopeful young students. He encouraged the Viterbi School's class of 2008 to "be proud, and more than a little excited. The world - your world - grows more complex and challenging every day."

He also reminded them that they are well-prepared for these challenges. "Because you were educated here, your toolkit contains more than the advanced technical skills you acquired," he said. "Your education was balanced," which meant it represented the appropriate blend of both creative and analytical skills.

Yortsos acknowledged the 40-plus students recognized this year for outstanding achievements and cited the Society of Women Engineers, which was awarded the Alumni Advisory Board Award for Outstanding Student Organization. He then turned the podium over to Kelly Nakamura, the Viterbi School's 2008 valedictorian, who celebrated commencement not only at the top of her class but at the top of all graduating senior women at USC.  Kelly, who earned her degree in chemical engineering, will begin medical school at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota later this summer.

In her spirited and polished delivery, Nakamura praised classmates for their extraordinary commitment, persistence and hard work over the last four or five years.
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Exuberant students, just waiting for the moment when they could toss those caps into the air. (Ben Murray photo.)

"We have committed ourselves to being Trojan engineers. We have committed ourselves to a rigorous course schedule that forced many to be creative in pursuing a minor or studying abroad. We have committed ourselves to open book exams for which 'open book' was little help. And we have even committed ourselves to Friday afternoon classes!

"Let me tell you - we didn't do it for the free t-shirts," she said with a laugh. "Most of us did this because we loved math and science ... or maybe we chose engineering because someone, such as a well-meaning high school physics teacher, told us that we were good at these subjects ... We endured with the support of our professors and our classmates. We didn't quit, because we knew that a Viterbi undergraduate degree would not only prepare us for a career in engineering, but for careers in fields such as business, law and medicine.

"As we graduate today, let us be confident that USC and the Viterbi School have prepared us well. Let us be confident that we have not only received excellent academic training, but that we have also developed strong teamwork, communication and leadership skills."
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John Albert Randall, IV, hugs his mom.  John is part of a pioneering  group of students who received a new dual degree this year in computer science and business administration. (Ben Murray photo.)

Alumnus Ken Klein (BSBMEE '82), holder of dual engineering degrees from USC and benefactor of the Klein Institute for Undergraduate Engineering Life (KIUEL), gave a keynote address to new graduates, telling them that the key to success is to "have something you're passionate about in your life." He went on to share what he learned from two of his biggest influences, his grandfather, a businessman who cared deeply about people and gave back to his community, and his father, who had an insatiable appetite for the "pure and joyous pursuit of answers to life's questions."

He told the class of 2008 that some of them would experience setbacks and failures in life, but the challenge would be how they chose to react to it.

"You've received lots of feedback over the past four or five years - from grades, rankings, teachers, parents and even friends. This feedback is important, but it certainly does not fully define you," he said, adding that the graduates should believe in themselves, and find and follow their passions early.  "This will strengthen your integrity and serve you and others well," he said. 
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Sarah Straus, right, received her bachelor of science in mechanical engineerng, saying: "It's been a wonderful day. I consider not just mechanical engineering but the entire engineering school to be my family."  (Ben Murray photo.)

His final wish for the class of 2008 was that they give back to the 21st century world someday — "not by building it out, but by saving it."  He recalled the words of Paul Saffo, technology forecaster and futurist, who said that, "Your job is to fix problems that were the solutions to the problems of the past."

In the afternoon, 1,257 master's degree students were awarded their diplomas in the spacious, air-conditioned Galen Center basketball arena.  The school also awarded 150 Ph.D. degrees, "which is a lot for a school our size," Yortsos said.

Microtechnology pioneer Fariborz Maseeh, who started and sold the fledgling micromechanical technology company IntelliSense and who is a member of the Viterbi School's Board of Councilors, delivered the graduate ceremony commencement address.  Using personal anecdotes he advised the new graduates about taking risks, perseverence, competition, salaries and the role of money.

He described the difficulties he faced in the first phase of developing his business, losing government contracts to his competitors until, finally, one of those contracts came through.

“Remember we were developing a new field and all of its infrastructure,” he said. “The breakthrough for me came one day when I read in a management book: ‘Never compete with a small competitor.  If you win it is not a big glory, and if you lose, you lost to something small.’ 
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What did it feel like to graduate? Althea Lyman (far right, front row), recipient of the Doris M. Gilliland Memorial Service Award and who served as Ms. USC this year, said: "I’m really excited to graduate today. I’m really grateful for all of the support Viterbi has given me these four years!” Andrew Fishe (far right, behind her), who earned a BS in computer engineering, said: "This is the culmination of all of our hard work … it’s a great feeling to do this today.” 

“I decided to ignore our competitor, and instead, move forward as fast as we could,” he continued. “On the other hand, our competitor, which probably did not read what I read, was watching our every move.  While we looked ahead and engaged with our customers — and tried to please them — our competition spent their time watching us and spent their funds reacting to what we were doing.  Our attention shift from competitor to customer resulted in commercially superior products, which became, at the time, the standard for the industry.”

He advised the eager new graduates not to take jobs in which they were overpaid.

"Paying more than fair value is a sign of incompetence,” Maseeh said.  “Incompetent companies will waste your most valuable asset: your time and your life."

He concluded by talking about the importance of happiness and making global problems, such as global warming, a priority in everyday life. 

“Your destiny will be different. You will face your own challenges and circumstances,” he said.  “Take risks for your dreams, persevere, ignore competition, and if you are overpaid, quit!   Enjoy the journey and take good care of our planet.”

For more photos of the Viterbi School's Commencement Day 2008, visit the Photo Gallery.