USC’s Alumni Association student outreach program, Society 53, is hosting an event today featuring a USC graduate whose accomplishments have made history.
After graduating USC in 1986, Capt. Melissa Ward became the first black woman to serve as a flight instructor in the U.S. Air Force and as a captain for a commercial airline. She attributes much of her success to USC.
“The big thing about USC is that the name recognition is incredible,” she said. “No matter where you live, when you go places in your life people are like, ‘Wow, that must have been a great place to go to school.’ For me it was really about what I learned on how to handle myself.”
As an undergraduate, the experiences Ward had at USC not only made for fond college memories but also served to teach her crucial lessons about hard work and perseverance that have helped her to realize her accomplishments.
“Everything I have done in life I think back and say I wouldn’t have been the same if I had not gone to USC. The friends I made are the ones I still have today,” Ward said.
Defining moments at USC came often for Ward, but the ones that stuck out most for her came on the court as a member of the USC women’s basketball team.
“It teaches you whole new things when you come from high school where you were the star, and then you are surrounded by people who are far better than you are,” she said. “It was very character developing to sit there and work so hard in practice, and the only reward was to know you made your best players better. I realized going into the Air Force that you have to do your part and things will come your way and you will eventually become the star.”
For current Trojans, becoming involved on campus and taking advantage of the non-academic opportunities is a must, according to Ward.
“Get involved in something,” she said. “If you can’t play on sports teams, play intramurals. Get involved in organizations. There is a lot to USC besides academics. Social skills are just as important as academic ones.”
Ward’s accomplishments are inspiring for not only Trojans but for other black women. Ward hopes her accomplishments give back to the community and help others accomplish their dreams.
“Black people are really tied up on firsts,” she said. “I think it’s super great in a culture where there were so many struggles, but I also think it’s important not to only mark the first. I just hope that when I look back that I am not the last one.”
Ward’s time at USC was full of accomplishments, both academic and personal. She graduated in the top 100 of her class, held the highest grade point average of any female athlete that year and won the Michael Garrett Award, according to Jessica Ching, a sophomore majoring in political science and a member of Society 53.
“She is also the recipient of the 77th annual USC alumni award. She is an amazing alumna and has achieved a lot and was nice enough to speak to the students,” Ching said.
Society 53 President Lisa Robinson, a senior majoring in communication, said the group is excited to host Ward, and the event carries a special meaning as graduation approaches.
“She has an incredibly inspiring story, and she appeals to a wide group of people,” Robinson said. “I graduate in three weeks, so hearing an inspiring story from a fellow Trojan is very exciting for me.”