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USC graduates shine in and out of the classroom

Perkins_Robertby Robert Perkins
Triplets James, Molly and Paul Peterson
Photo: From left, triplets James, Molly and Paul Peterson (Photo/Dietmar Quistorf)

Almost 14,000 degrees will be awarded at USC’s Commencement ceremonies on May 11. Among the outstanding graduates:

Genevieve Hoffman (Valedictorian)

A double major in international relations and economics, Hoffman finished her degree summa cum laude in just three-and-a-half years, writing a scholarly journal article on military commissions and being elected to Phi Beta Kappa along the way. Hoffman, who also is an avid photographer and musician, will start law school at the University of Virginia this fall and plans to work in the arena of government and politics.

Sonam Kapadia (Salutatorian)

Kapadia, who was chosen as a Renaissance Scholar for “breadth with depth” in her studies, double majored in health promotion disease and prevention studies at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and biological sciences with a minor in sociology at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. While with the JWCH Center for Community Health, she shadowed a physician on Skid Row and was inspired to start the SC Homelessness Initiative, a student organization that develops and presents preventive health workshops for homeless women.

Ryan Hill (Salutatorian)

A knee injury that Hill sustained while playing varsity basketball in high school led to his chosen career path as a surgeon. Hill already had wanted to go into medicine, but the surgery to repair his knee — which allowed him to continue playing basketball — inspired him to study orthopaedic surgery. He turned down a basketball scholarship at the University of California, San Diego, to attend USC. Hill will graduate with bachelor’s degrees in kinesiology and biological sciences, and though he hasn’t decided yet where he wants to study medicine, he has taken courses in the rigorous Baccalaureate/M.D. program that guarantees admission into the Keck School.

James, Molly and Paul Peterson

These triplets — all three set to graduate this month — are part of a true Trojan Family. After graduating high school in the Los Angeles area, the close-knit siblings were accepted by USC, where their mother earned a degree in occupational therapy and one of their older sisters earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees. The Peterson family will be arriving en masse on Friday to watch as Paul, Molly and James receive degrees in political science, accounting and business, respectively.

Emily Allen

Allen was the first straight “ally” to be executive director of the USC Queer and Ally Student Assembly. Around the same time that national columnist Dan Savage started the It Gets Better Project, she started the Ally Project in which people come out as allies by posting photos of themselves declaring support for the LGBT community. Allen, who studied psychology and creative writing at USC, has volunteered as a camp counselor at Troy Camp and taught creative writing to grade-school students during the spring semester at 32nd Street School/USC MsST Magnet through the “Writer in the Community” course at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

Augusto Alonso

Alonso is a football player who has studied engineering and has a desire to help people. Raised by a Costa Rican mother and a Cuban father in Omaha, Neb., Spanish is Alonso’s first language — which helped considerably as he traveled to Honduras five times during his college career. Alonso was a project leader with Engineers Without Borders, working on a water-delivery project to bring clean water to a village of 350 people. He will head back to Honduras for a sixth time the day after Commencement with the aim of completing the project. Alonso has both brains and brawn; he walked-on to the varsity football team in the spring of his sophomore year and played two full seasons on the team as an outside linebacker, appearing in two games this past season. He will graduate with his bachelor’s in biomedical engineering and will pursue a master’s degree at Duke University.

Nancy Padron de Mendez

Growing up in Mexico City, Padron de Mendez hadn’t even considered going to college. After moving to the United States at age 9, her eyes were opened to the possibility of a university degree by a seventh-grade teacher and mentor. She spent a year at East Los Angeles College (ELAC) before transferring to USC. She will graduate with a degree in business administration and is dedicated to paving a brighter future for herself and others, including her 8-year-old daughter. After coming to USC, Padron de Mendez did not forget her roots at ELAC and joined the SCholars Program, where she mentored and tutored students attending community colleges with the hopes that one day they, too, would follow her path to a four-year university.

Ali Al Saffar, Fahad Al Ghanem, Hadyan Alajmi, Noha Najem and Nadia Alzeabot

These students are the first Kuwait Oil Co. (KOC) employees to receive their graduate degrees at USC under an agreement between the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and KOC that allows the students to complete their classwork from Kuwait via the school’s Distance Education Network. The opportunity allowed the students to further their education without being away from their families or work responsibilities. They will travel to Los Angeles to receive their degrees.

Gita Advani

Advani will earn two degrees from USC, one from the USC Marshall School of Business and the other from the USC Leventhal School of Accounting. A native of Singapore, Advani has traveled to New Zealand and Singapore. representing USC in international case competitions, where students solve actual business problems under simulated business conditions. She also flew to Santiago, Chile, to participate in USC Marshall’s Learning About International Commerce program. After graduation, Advani will work for the firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers.

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