One hundred and thirty years ago, USC’s first class of students set foot on campus.
Since then, the reins of power have changed hands only 10 times. We have seen 10 presidents shape the legacy of our university — this week, USC students will help ring in the 11th.
The inauguration of President C.L. Max Nikias on Friday is anything but a routine passing of the torch at USC — it will be a defining moment for our university.
Staff, students, alumni and loyal Trojan fans are anxious to hear what the new president will have to say about his vision for the university’s future.
Although Friday will be full of celebration and applause, Nikias will likely argue that from this day forward our university has a challenging mission ahead — to make even greater academic strides on top of the progress we’ve already made.
Nikias must take advantage of the attention granted to him in that moment and assure students that his values — as an administrator and as a parent of two USC students — are what’s needed to get the university on the move.
In his address to students, Nikias must also communicate a vision to combine two fields that he is passionate about and that are vital to USC’s continued rise: the arts and innovative technology.
As an advocate of liberal arts education, Nikias was at the forefront in the creation of the Visions and Voices program on campus — a creative and popular experience for many students.
Nikias has also been instrumental in the university’s mission to utilize research in the creation of new technologies and products that advance society’s interest.
The result? Nikias was the first to be recognized as the holder of the Malcolm R. Currie Chair in Technology and the Humanities — a testament to his passion for bringing two seemingly contrasting fields into a common university purpose.
In a world where different fields are becoming increasingly intertwined, this recognition shows that Nikias is progressive enough to encourage students to combine seemingly disparate areas of study, such as through the Renaissance Scholars program.
Motivating students to hone their skills in different fields is the kind of the leadership we need right now. We need leadership that adapts to the changing times, yet remains rooted in the university’s commitment to making a global impact.
Nineteen years ago, when President Steven B. Sample assumed office, USC was not remotely competitive with the school just across town in Westwood.
Now, we are on par with the most historically respected schools in the nation, gradually nabbing prospective students from the Harvards and Stanfords of the country and enrolling them here at USC.
But if our university is going to continue its climb in the rankings, competing with the top schools to attract the best and brightest students, it demands the right leadership at the right time.
Hopefully, Nikias will use his inauguration speech to highlight that he is just this.
With his 19 years at USC as professor, researcher, dean of the Viterbi School of Engineering and as USC’s provost, Nikias clearly knows the university at all levels. It isn’t just his experience that matters, but his multifaceted involvement at USC as well.
He can expand the working coalition that benefits all of us here on campus — students, staff and faculty — and take every voice into consideration as we move forward, something students are always relieved to hear.
Most of us might not remember every nook and cranny of Nikias’ professional and personal background. Nor is Nikias likely to boast of it, even during his long-awaited inauguration ceremony.
But what we can take away from this historic event on Friday is that, above all, Nikias is a champion of students’ hopes and futures.
And of course, expect Nikias to do what he has done to conclude previous speeches — raise two fingers and yell, “Fight On!”
Stephen Zelezny is a sophomore majoring in public relations. His column, “USC on the Move,” runs Thursdays.