The gloomy morning weather was overshadowed by the buzz of excitement from over 19,000 graduates as they held up USC’s “Fight On” sign one last time at the 136th Commencement Ceremony Friday.
Interim President Wanda Austin, valedictorian Ivana Giang and commencement speaker Karen Bass delivered remarks to the graduates and attendees at the main ceremony.
Following a procession of faculty, flags and half-century Trojan alumni, Austin opened the event by acknowledging the graduates’ achievements in their respective fields and offering words of encouragement to the new class of alumni.
“Today we have gathered at a very important moment for our University, our nation and our world,” Austin said. “The graduates we celebrate today exemplify the very, very best of a new generation. You are one of the most advanced, the most talented and the most creative in the nation.”
Austin noted that this year’s commencement ceremony was particularly special for the Kaufman School of Dance, which celebrated its first graduating class.
Bass, a USC alumna and congresswoman representing the University Park neighborhood, began her keynote address with a humorous anecdote about politician and USC alumnus Frederick Madison Roberts. The first black man elected to the California State Assembly, Madison most notably signed a bill that established UCLA.
“The piece of legislation he is probably best remembered for is the bill that established that school on the other side of town,” Bass said. “So, when you encounter someone from that other school, you remind them that their school only exists because a Trojan made it happen.”
On a more serious note, Bass called on graduates to be agents for change, listing acclaimed members of the Trojan Family like astronaut Neil Armstrong and actress Regina King.
“All of these individuals grew up in vastly different times and came from widely diverse backgrounds, but they had two important things in common: They graduated USC, and they dreamed,” Bass said. “Now, it’s your turn to dream.”
Bass was among one of the honorary degree recipients alongside Spirit of Troy director Arthur C. Bartner; dancer and actor Mikhail Baryshnikov; philanthropists and art patrons Eli and Edythe Broad; statistician and neuroscientist Emery Brown; and humanitarian Cindy Hensley McCain.
During the ceremony, Giang delivered her valedictory address to the class of 2019.
Giang, who received two bachelor’s degrees in public policy and global studies, urged her fellow graduates to be passionate, and to fight for equal access and opportunity for those in marginalized communities.
“Here at USC, we’ve been told to ‘Fight On’ all these years,” Giang said. “But I have to ask USC, ‘What are we fighting for?’ I fought alongside my friends to make underrepresented student voices heard because I believe in USC.”
Giang also addressed the scandals that have roiled the campus community for the past two years.
“There is a moral responsibility to protect the right for everyone to experience what is beautiful in this world,” Giang said. “Given all that’s happened here this year, I think it’s time our campus leaders take a lesson from us students about how to truly live by a set of values.”
Giang thanked her parents, who came to the United States as Vietnam War immigrants, as well as her fellow graduates for all they have done for her. In concluding her address, she called on the Class of 2019 to come together.
“To my fellow graduates, can we all make a promise to spread a little more love wherever we go from here?” Giang said. “Can we share some of the beauty we felt here together? I know we have it in us.”
In a special announcement at the end of the ceremony, Board of Trustees Chairman Rick Caruso bestowed an honorary degree upon Austin for leading the University during one of the most challenging times in its 140-year history.
“As interim president, Dr. Austin has led this university with courage, dignity and grace,” Caruso said. “Never once did she avoid making hard decisions. Dr. Austin listened, she learned, she engaged, she led.”