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A New Generation Of Engineer Leaders Rises To Grand Challenges

Graduates at the 88th annual engineering commencement ceremony embody the spirit of innovation and global engagement
By: Daniel Druhora
May 13, 2016 —


USC Viterbi graduates at the 88th Annual Engineering Commencement Ceremony on Friday, May 13, 2016. Photo by Victor Leung

“What is uncertainty? For a Trojan, it is simply the beginning of adventure."

With this question, USC President C. L. Max Nikias charged a new generation of Trojan graduates to march through the gates of Troy bearing the standards of academic excellence, innovation, entrepreneurship and global engagement that have become hallmarks of a USC education.

Nowhere was the spirit of innovation more palpable than at the 88th Annual Engineering Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony on Friday, May 13. Dean Yannis Yortsos congratulated the 710 graduates – 30 percent of whom were women – on their stellar accomplishments.

“This graduating class is the best so far,” said Yortsos. “The best educated and the most representative in our history.”

Graduates who lead by example

USC Viterbi valedictorian, Aduragbemi Jibodu, B.S. mechanical engineering, encouraged his fellow graduates to “fight on and continue on the road” even when obstacles seem insurmountable.

“There’s no such thing as failure as long as the attempt teaches you something,” Jibodu said. “It doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. Reach out to family, friends and loved ones.”

He turned to his parents who came from Virginia to see him graduate: “You have been my backbone and support system. Thank you. I love you.”

USC Viterbi valedictorian, Aduragbemi Jibodu. Photo by Victor Leung

Jibodu, who emigrated to the United States from Nigeria at the age of 10, also challenged his cohort to “get comfortable being uncomfortable.”

“Take a dance class if you’re not a good dancer. Take on a business-oriented role as an engineer.”

This year's graduating class embodies the mindset of the engineer-as-leader perhaps like never before.

Alison Glazer, B.S. mechanical engineering, led the university’s 3D printing club, 3D4E, "3D For Everyone," as they harnessed the power of 3D printing to provide war-wounded children around the world with 3D printed prostheses.

Xavier Hernandez, B.S. industrial and systems engineering, served on the executive board for Engineers Without Borders (EWB). From humble beginnings, growing up on a California citrus farm that was half the size of the USC campus, Hernandez distinguished himself on campus with his TEDx talk, “The Dunk or the Layup” – an inspiring message about selfishness versus unselfishness.

Grand Challenges scholar, Shira Bernard, B.S. biomedical engineering, led the Associated Students of Biomedical Engineering (ASBME) in organizing USC’s first “makeathon” to design and build a medical device for NASA that can both prevent and treat upper-extremity fractures in outer space.

Stephen Wilson, B.S. mechanical engineering, who narrowly escaped a tragic car accident and learned to walk again using the ReWalk exoskeleton system, led a project on the creation of a myoelectric prosthetic powered by the arm's own muscles.

NAE Grand Challenges Scholar, Shira Bernard. Photo by Victor Leung

But perhaps no other program is indicative of these types of engineer-leaders as the NAE Grand Challenges Scholars of which USC Viterbi has amassed 24 this past year.

Combining hands-on research, interdisciplinary training, entrepreneurship, global perspectives and service learning, these leaders represent the best of the world that comes to USC Viterbi.

They now go to give their best to the world.

Leaders who give back

It was also fitting that USC Viterbi had not just one but two valedictorians to inspire the 2016 graduates.

Sulekha Ramayya, B.S. biomedical engineering, served as overall USC valedictorian for the 133rd Commencement. Ramayya founded Mylaria, a global non-profit whose main mission is to defeat malaria in developing countries. In her heartfelt and comically charged address, she spoke about the need for humility while on a mission to change the world:

“We must empathize with both the powerful and the powerless," said Ramayya. "Sympathy is easy because it comes from a position of power. Empathy is about getting down on your knees, looking someone in the eyes and knowing that you could be that person.”

Kenneth Simril, B.S. '88 in petroleum engineering, president and CEO of Fleischmann’s Ingredients – a leading manufacturer of liquid, natural specialty ingredients serving a range of markets, was the keynote speaker.

Mechanical engineering graduate Stephen Wilson and Dean Yannis Yortsos. Photo by Victor Leung

Simril, who spoke about the lone journey that brought him to USC after tragically losing his mother at the critical age of 14, told the graduates to remember the first law of thermodynamics – energy is neither created nor destroyed:

“Take the negative energy in our world," said Simril, "and transform it into positive energy, as no doubt you will face the headwinds of life.”

A prolific civic servant as much as a venture capitalist, Simril also stressed the importance of giving back as an integral part of a Trojan’s identity.

“Make giving back a part of your life. It’s what you do. It’s how you roll.”

Before conferring their degrees, Dean Yortsos limited his closing remarks to 140 characters:

“Good Luck and Congrats @Viterbi Class 2016 #awesome, #willbemissed, cre8 the world that never was.”

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88th Commencement Ceremony Photos