USC Marks 126th Commencement
Surprised and delighted by the pealing chimes of a newly restored university landmark, and inspired by honorary degree recipient Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “six rules of success,” more than 8,000 graduating Trojans cheered commencement today for the 126th time in USC history.
The festive occasion marked the return of the symphonic carillon in the Von KleinSmid bell tower, repaired thanks to the women of Town & Gown and soon to be upgraded with an additional gift from the graduating class of 2009.
The carillon’s music mingled with the cheers of graduates, relatives and friends in Alumni Park as a flock of doves was released to mark the official moment of graduation.
Earlier, President Steven B. Sample had opened his annual remarks with congratulations for the assembled graduates.
“You’ve made it! You are graduating from one of the world’s premier research universities,” he said. “As we pause today on the threshold of your future, we’re here to cheer you on.
“It’s true that you’re graduating in an uncertain economy. But I would encourage you to be positive, innovative and courageous. The world needs your ideas, your enthusiasm and your talent; it also needs your kindness, your curiosity and your desire to live a full and meaningful life.”
He paused to remember one such life: that of posthumous salutatorian William Zarifi, who lost his battle with a brain tumor last October.
“He lived a thoughtful and ethical life, a life in which his determination, his compassion and his respect for others earned him the admiration of all who knew him and loved him,” Sample said to cheers from Zarifi’s classmates in the USC Marshall School of Business.
In an essay discovered on his laptop after his death, Zarifi called the day of his cancer diagnosis “the luckiest day of my life.
“When you are on the verge of death, life changes. What is the meaning of life? I have no idea, but I do know that I want to make a difference before I leave.”
Zarifi’s family, who attended commencement, established a foundation in his honor to build children’s hospitals and orphanages in poor countries.
Sample called on Zarifi’s parents to stand and be recognized, along with the other salutatorians: Brenda Nuyen, a USC Renaissance Scholar and aspiring physician, and music major Sara Schlievert, a USC Trustee Scholar and National Merit Scholar who earned the highest grade point average among all undergraduate women at USC.
Valedictorian Paul VanWieren, a biomedical engineering major who earned multiple scholarships, including the USC University Trustees Award, paraphrased Luke 12:48 in an appeal to civic responsibility: “From he to whom much is given, much will be expected, and we have been given much.”
Giving back was the sixth and final rule in the rousing commencement address by Gov. Schwarzenegger (for a list of honorary degree recipients, visit http://www.usc.edu/dept/pubrel/specialevents/commencement/hdr.php).
The former movie star talked about being more excited to play chess with an inner-city kid than by a walk down a red carpet, and he honored the selfless example of his father-in-law, Peace Corps founder Robert Sargent Shriver.
The fifth rule, and the most important one, according to Schwarzenegger, was “work your butt off.”
“You can’t climb the ladder of success with your hands in your pockets,” he said, teasing those who claim to need more than six hours of sleep a night: “Sleep faster, I would recommend.”
“Don’t listen to the naysayers” was the fourth rule. President Barack Obama did not, the governor reminded the cheering crowd. Schwarzenegger said that if he had listened to naysayers, he would still be in his native Austria instead of serving as “governor of the greatest state of the greatest country in the world.”
Illustrating the third rule, “Don’t be afraid to fail,” with self-deprecating humor, Schwarzenegger mentioned some of his box-office flops, such as Last Action Hero. But in keeping with the recurrent scrappy-kid-overcomes-all-obstacles theme of his speech, he quickly followed up with a list of his biggest hits. Every mention of The Terminator brought cheers from graduates not yet born when the movie that made Schwarzenegger a superstar premiered in 1984.
The second rule, or non-rule, was “Break the rules.” Schwarzenegger spoke of the movie agents who told him a bodybuilder could not succeed as an actor and who complained about his accent. Yet one of the most famous lines in movie history, the Terminator’s “I’ll be back,” worked precisely because of its accented delivery.
Schwarzenegger’s first rule was “Trust yourself.” Stop listening to your parents, he told graduates surrounded by their families, and look inside yourself to decide who you want to be and what makes you happy.
In a year of economic crisis, even Schwarzenegger could not avoid a mention of the challenges facing new graduates. But he quickly reminded the crowd that USC is “one of the greatest universities in the world” in “the greatest country on Earth with the greatest opportunities.
“We’ll be back,” he said, “and we will be back stronger and more prosperous than ever before because that is what California and this country have always done.”
He added, “Never lose the spirit of Troy. You are USC Trojans, proud, strong.”
Taking his message to heart, the graduates and their families proudly exited Alumni Park to the recessional strains of a USC Trojan Marching Band classic: Alfred Newman’s Conquest.