Thousands of friends, family and guests of the 2014 graduating class gathered in front of Doheny Library Friday morning for the 131st Annual Commencement Ceremony.
Withstanding sweltering temperatures, the crowd stretched from the steps of Doheny back to Bovard Auditorium. President C.L. Max Nikias kicked off the ceremony by noting the tentative future that lie before the graduates.
“The class of 2014 are graduating into times of uncertainty … but what is uncertainty?” Nikias said. “Uncertainty is the beginning of a great adventure.”
Nikias stressed that no matter where life led the students, the USC family would be by their side.
“The Trojans always seize destiny,” Nikias said. “Remember: You do not go forward alone, but with the global Trojan family.”
Nearly 16,000 students earned diplomas on Friday, and Nikias also conferred six honorary degrees to preeminent leaders in his or her respective field, including entrepreneur and philanthropist Marc Benioff, CEO and founder of salesforce.com; USC trustee and founder of Public Storage B. Wayne Hughes; television executive producer and USC alumna Shonda L. Rhimes; Nobel laureate biologist and biochemist Phillip A. Sharp; mathematician and philanthropist James A. Simons and choreographer and dancer Twlya Tharp.
Much of the ceremony took on a theme of service — stressing the importance of giving back to the surrounding community and the world at large.
The Class of 2014 Valedictorian Jana Shapiro used her speech to reflect on the past four years, and stressed that the graduates should provide change and support no matter where life takes them.
“Let’s cultivate a Trojan culture of action and spread it wherever we go,” Shapiro said.
The ceremony’s keynote address was given by entrepreneur and philanthropist Mark Benioff, best known as the CEO and founder of the cloud computing website salesforce.com.
Benioff, a USC alumnus and trustee, reflected that after graduating from the university he took a job at Oracle Corporation, but after ten years felt lost and frustrated with his life.
“A decade went by and all of a sudden I felt kind of unmotivated, not energized, not very excited, not very inspired,” Benioff said.
He took a trip to south India with a friend of his, and during his journey he engaged with a guru who imparted wisdom on Benioff that would dictate the rest of his life.
“[She told us,] don’t forget to do something for others,” Benioff said. “I felt that I had found what I was looking for. She said that don’t forget — while we’re changing the world — don’t forget about others who are a little less well taken care of. “
That piece of advice stuck with Benioff, and it was something he stressed for the class of 2014. Referencing the university’s fencing from the outside community, he closed his speech by encouraging the graduates not to isolate themselves from those in need.
“We drove through some high fences and high gates [today] and we all know why — because only a few blocks from here are some of the most impoverished people in the world,” Benioff said. “Don’t let those walls be a metaphor for your own life — get out there and do something for others.”