Thousands gathered on campus Friday morning for the 133rd annual commencement ceremony to celebrate the graduating class of 2016.
“The sun never sets on the Trojan Family,” Nikias said in his opening statement. “It is always rising.”
Approximately 17,000 students earned diplomas from the University. President C. L. Max Nikias also awarded six honorary degrees to distinguished leaders and influencers from a wide variety of fields, including Alejandro González Iñárritu, an Oscar-winning Mexican filmmaker and director; Jackie Lacey, the first African-American and the first female to serve as District Attorney of Los Angeles County; Mark Stevens, former managing director at Sequoia Capital; Mary Stevens, a civic leader and philanthropist; and Selim Zilkha, founder of Mothercare. Commencement speaker Larry Ellison, CEO and founder of Oracle Corporation, also received an honorary degree from the University.
In his keynote address, Ellison recounted his experiences growing up in a lower middle-class community in Chicago, where he received pressure from his family to go to medical school and become a doctor. However, Ellison reminded the graduates to follow their dreams and not the dreams of others.
“Virtually everybody important in my life wanted me to become a doctor,” Ellison said. “Over time, their dreams became my dreams.”
During his college years, Ellison stated that he struggled to find interest in his studies, where he was planning to pursue the medical career that his parents wanted for him.
“I thought my comparative anatomy class was a perversely pointless form of psychological torture,” Ellison said. “Whatever the underlying reasons, I was unable to make myself into the person that I thought I should be, so I decided to stop trying.”
After concluding that medical school wasn’t the right path, Ellison dropped out of college and moved to Berkeley, California, where he took computer science and sailing classes. However, his wife divorced him due to what he said was a lack of ambition. But Ellison considers this to be a major turning point for him.
“It was a pivotal moment in my life,” Ellison said. “But this time, I was not disappointed in myself for failing to be the person they thought I should be. Their dreams and my dreams were different. I would never confuse the two of them again.”
After finding dissatisfaction in his software engineer jobs. Ellison went on to found Oracle Corporation, a company that now employs more than 135,000 people. Ellison recently donated $200 million to USC for cancer research, establishing the Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine of USC.
Sulekha Ramayya, who graduated with a degree in biomedical engineering with a minor and business, gave the valedictory address was. Ramayya maintained a 4.0 grade-point average for all four years of her college career and is the co-founder of Mylaria, a nonprofit that works to fight malaria by leveraging novel drugs and teaching malaria prevention techniques.
In her address, Ramayya stressed the importance of recognizing privilege and giving back to others in need.
“It’s important to keep our perspectives of citizens of the world, to treat both the powerful and powerless of the world with dignity and respect,” Ramayya said. “I don’t just mean sympathizing with those in need, but actually empathizing with them in a way that improves their situation.”
Ramayya further stated that the class of 2016 will find success working to improve conditions for the less fortunate.
“Our greatest achievements as a group won’t just be the advancements we make, but how we use these advancements to reduce global inequity,” Ramayya said.
Among the degree recipients was 96-year-old Alfonso Gonzalez, the oldest graduate in the history of USC. Gonzalez began his studies in 1947 and thought he had completed his degree, but returned to the University once he that he realized he was one unit short.
“Like a true Trojan, [Gonzalez] was determined to ‘Fight On,’ and finish what he began,” Nikias said.
Ellison closed his speech referring to a conversation he had with his close friend Steve Jobs and emphasized the importance of social value over monetary value.
“After a certain point it can’t be about the money,” Ellison said. “I believe that, deep inside all of us, there’s a primal desire to do something important with our lives.”