“And I will always love you, class of 2017, I will always love you,” sang comedian Will Ferrell to end his keynote speech to the more than 17,000 graduates at the 134th Annual Commencement Ceremony on Friday.
The main ceremony, which took place in Alumni Park, featured speeches by USC President C. L. Max Nikias, class valedictorian Cooper Nelson and of course, Ferrell, who served as keynote speaker.
Ferrell, who graduated from USC in 1990, spoke of his arduous journey to success and how the lessons he learned at USC gave him the courage to pursue a career in comedy.
“The seeds for this journey were planted right here on this campus,” Ferrell said. “This campus was a theater or testing lab.”
Aside from plenty of laughs, Ferrell left the graduates with the message that it’s OK to not know what you want to do, and told them that if they should ever feel discouraged, to picture him serenading them with Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.”
Ferrell was just one of six honorary degree recipients honored at Friday’s ceremony, among them were Oscar-winning actress Helen Mirren, 1996 Time Magazine Man of the Year and HIV/AIDS researcher David Ho and Chairman of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas.
The degree recipients joined Nikias and Ferrell onstage for the ceremony.
“Consider these times in which you now set out to lead,” Nikias said to the graduates. “Today’s traditions that have lasted generations can become obsolete almost overnight.”
Nikias also encouraged students to forge ahead into a constantly changing society, while noting the traditions and accomplishments of USC that have endured through the achievements of its graduates.
Valedictorian Cooper Nelson emphasized ideas of acceptance and service to the community through her passion of storytelling. Nelson is the first valedictorian to graduate from the School of Cinematic Arts. She described her dreams of developing media that would teach a young audience life lessons.
“I am also your unemployed valedictorian this year,” Nelson said. “Many of you I know personally will literally change the world in the environment, global health, and technology [sectors]. Me, I just really wanna write cartoons.”
Nelson added that the graduates could achieve success and make a lasting, positive impact in the world in their own way.
“We have all been blessed with a wonderful college experience, and we need to pay it forward in life,” Nelson said, “any way we can, whenever we can and for as long as we can.”
Correction: A previous version of this story stated incorrectly that class salutatorians Amanda Semler and Jordan Kondo gave speeches at the main commencement ceremony. They were honored at the ceremony, but did not speak. The Daily Trojan regrets this error.