More than 10,000 graduates were honored Friday as the university celebrated its 127th annual commencement ceremony with an address from outgoing president Steven B. Sample, who encouraged graduates to strive for a more fulfilling life by achieving more than professional success.
“In the final analysis, what determines a person’s ultimate success is not so much his professional abilities or political brilliance as it is his character,” Sample said.
Sample advised graduates to ask themselves three questions as they looked toward their future: how they felt about money, how they felt about children and how they felt about God.
“If you should be so fortunate as to find answers for yourself to these three questions, you will almost certainly gain a better understanding of the meaning of life, of your place in the universe and of how you might live in productive peace and harmony with your fellow human beings,” Sample said. “And that, after all, is what living well is all about.”
Although some students initially expressed disappointment that Sample — who, after serving as the university’s president since 1991, will step down from the post in August — was selected as USC’s commencement speaker, many who graduated Friday said his speech was inspiring and a good cap to the ceremonies.
“I think he did a wonderful job,” said Erin Greene, who majored in international relations. “He encouraged us to consider important questions we all need to ask ourselves.”
Not all students were satisfied, however. Jeremy Allen, who majored in fine arts, said the speech didn’t measure up to Sample’s accomplishments.
“I really like Sample, but I thought the speech was underwhelming,” Allen said. “I expected something a little more inspirational.”
Also recognized for their accomplishments Friday were five honorary degree recipients, including former Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton, noted scientist Ting-Kai Li, conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen and past president of Botswana Festus G. Mogae.
Three students were also recognized for their work in the university’s main commencement ceremony: valedictorian Liana Ching, who majored in chemical engineering, and salutatorians Natasha Naik, who majored in biomedical engineering, and Lisa Werth, who majored in biological sciences.
Overall, students said the ceremony was a fitting end to their college careers, and that Sample’s speech was an appropriate send-off.
“He was able to summarize how he was able to run the university,” Greene said. “[Sample] gave us a model of how to lead.”
Louis Lucero contributed to this report.