When the university announced last Friday that outgoing President Steven B. Sample would be the commencement speaker for the graduating class of 2010, some students were surprised — some even disappointed — that USC didn’t choose a higher-profile speaker to give the class its send-off.
Seniors have no reason to be upset, however. In fact, they have Sample to thank for the prestige of the USC logo on their diplomas.
When Sample accepted the post of university president in 1991, USC was ranked 51 in U.S. News & World Reports and admitted 70 percent of all applicants. Students went home on the weekends, not back to residential halls or dining facilities. Nineteen years later, we are ranked 25th and admit a scant 23.8 percent. No longer a commuter school, USC has a thriving campus and an active student body.
Under Sample’s guidance, USC has routinely recruited students of a higher caliber by providing more merit-based scholarships and financial aid. But he also made a concerted push for well-rounded students with diverse background and interests — an emphasis that shaped not only the university’s academics, but its campus atmosphere. Sample boosted USC’s clout, but he also made it into a dream college.
In the last two decades, USC has been built into the type of university that is able to attract celebrity governors and ’90s sitcom stars as commencement speakers; graduating seniors now have the honor of hearing someone who knows — perhaps better than anyone — the struggle it took to cultivate USC into a top-tier institution.
Those hoping for a flashy address need only to look into USC’s past to realize that many of the university’s most famous commencement speakers have been uninspiring. An accomplished orator, Sample will very likely enter the professional speaking circuit himself after his resignation. Attendees at the May ceremony will have the honor and privilege of hearing an experienced and attuned elocutionist.
The class of 2010 has an enviable speaker: one who is acquainted with the school intimately, one who is eloquent and one who knows, better than anyone else, how difficult it will be to leave this university.