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Then and now: How have four years changed the lives of four graduates?

As commencement calls, a quartet of Trojans reflect on time at USC and look ahead to careers in PR, linguistics, narrative studies and health

USC graduates, then and now: Dan Brink, Natalie Raphael, Jason Chen and Newal Osman
Dan Brink, Natalie Raphael, Jason Chen and Newal Osman, clockwise from top left, are graduating this week. (USC Photos/Gus Ruelas)

In fall 2014, four freshmen joined the Trojan Family full of anticipation and ambition. Natalie Raphael, Jason Chen, Newal Osman and Dan Brink were among the nearly 3,200 first-year students that August to move onto campus and officially embark on their college experience at USC.

With commencement on the horizon, the soon-to-be graduates reflected on their journeys and how they have grown and changed over the past four years.

Move your mouse over the photos to see how these graduates looked four years ago.

USC graduates then and now: Natalie Raphael

Natalie Raphael will graduate with a degree in public relations and minor in music industry. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)
Natalie Raphael

Natalie Raphael takes in her new life as a freshman at USC on Move-in Day in 2014. (USC Photo/David Sprague)

BA in public relations, minor in music industry

The self-proclaimed “quirky” undergrad came to USC with experience leading her high school as student council president and organizing large-scale arts and music festivals in Dallas. At USC, the free spirit with a knack for getting things done said she hoped to facilitate “shared creative experiences.”

What’s the biggest change you’ve noticed in yourself since we met you as a freshman?

Really letting go of the “should” thought pattern. For example, “I should be more social” or “I should go to bed right now.” While of course I’m not perfect, being at USC and having time and space to truly grow on my own has allowed me to decide for myself what I want to do and how I want to spend my time. The people at USC that I surround myself with are very open-minded, and I rarely feel judged by anyone here, which has been amazing, and it’s also allowed me to act on my honest thoughts and feelings without feeling weird about it. Everyone has their own thing going on and no one person is the same at USC, and being in this sort of environment has definitely allowed me to tune in to my truest self.

What was a highlight of the last four years?

Teaching my first yoga class at the USC gym was definitely a huge highlight for me. I knew that I always wanted to get my yoga certification, but it wasn’t until I started taking group exercise classes at the gym that I realized I had the ability to teach them as a student, which I thought was so cool. So I thought why not do it now? Yoga has been a huge gift to me, both from a physical and mental/emotional/spiritual state. There’s nothing more rejuvenating than transferring energy from myself to my class and then hearing from students afterward that they benefited not only physically, but spiritually as well.

What would you tell your freshman self today?

Chill out … it’s not as big of a deal as it is right now. Stressing out isn’t going to make the problem any better. In fact, it’s only your mind’s way of tricking itself into thinking it’s in control of the situation when in fact most of the time you aren’t. So try to fill that space with a plan of action that can get you out of the anxious state and into more of a space of equilibrium.

Who or what at USC has had the greatest impact on the person you are today?

My best friend and partner Griffin has had the greatest impact on me in college. He’s the yin to my yang. In a lot of ways, we’re complete opposites which actually works out when it comes to brainstorming and problem-solving. For instance, we’ve gotten the chance to co-create several projects together, such as our meditation club Mindful USC Student Collective and our own music PR company. Having the ability to collaborate with someone who thinks so differently than myself has allowed me to discover and hone my personal strengths while learning that’s it’s OK to ask for help and not do everything myself.

What’s next?

Unclear … definitely going on a yoga retreat in Hawaii and hoping to work in lifestyle PR in Los Angeles (still working on it).

USC graduates then and now: Jason Chen 2018 grad portrait

Jason Chen will graduate with degrees in linguistics and philosophy. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)
Jason Zesheng Chen meets roommate Brandan Sakka

Jason Chen, left, meets roommate Brandan Sakka at Birnkrant Residential College in 2014. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

BA in linguistics/philosophy

A Trustee Scholar from Shenzhen, China, Chen came to USC to study linguistics. It was a fitting choice for the young polyglot who arrived at his new home in Birnkrant Residential College already fluent in no less than seven languages.

What’s the biggest change you’ve noticed in yourself since we met you as a freshman?

I went from wanting to study comparative literature and working as a political satirist to wanting to study mathematical logic in a PhD program. Also, I learned to drive, traveled to 15 different countries and five different U.S. states, and learned Arabic, Persian and Hebrew at USC. And I gained 50 pounds.

What was a highlight of the last four years?

Two particularly memorable personal highlights were travel-related. The summer of my sophomore year, my younger brother and I traveled to Turkey by ourselves, and very coincidentally, we landed in Istanbul just the day before the 2016 coup d’état. The winter break of my junior year, my girlfriend and I planned and budgeted a trip around Europe and traveled to 11 cities across seven countries. We saw a lot of things that we had only read about in history textbooks, practiced speaking Spanish, German, and Italian, and even got to see the pope up close.

What would you tell your freshman self today?

I would tell him to challenge and question all advice before accepting any, including this.

Who or what at USC has had the greatest impact on the person you are today?

Professor Shieva Kleinschmidt and her class on metaphysics made me realize that I want to go to graduate school for philosophy (specializing in logic). Interaction with Professor Barry Schein made me realize how important it is to reflect on what we intend to express when we use language. In general, studying at USC’s linguistics/philosophy program taught me to constantly examine my assumptions and to live comfortably with uncertainty.

What’s next?

I have accepted University of California, Irvine’s offer to study for a PhD in the Department of Logic and Philosophy of Science. That’s where I’ll be for the next five years.

USC graduates then and now: Newal Osman portrait

Newal Osman is graduating with a degree in health promotion and disease prevention and a minor in occupational science. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)
Newal Osman

Newal Osman prepares to move her stuff into Trojan Hall on Move-in Day in 2014. (USC Photo/David Sprague)

BS in health promotion and disease prevention, minor in occupational science

The challenge of growing up around poverty and violence only expanded this freshman’s desire to give back. Inspired by the sacrifices of her Sudanese mother to advance her education, the Questbridge Scholar had her sights set on pediatric medicine because a career healing children “wouldn’t be a job,” she said.

What’s the biggest change you’ve noticed in yourself since we met you as a freshman?

Although I truly believed I knew exactly who I was before my first year, I was in for a surprise. With each passing year, I felt like I was unpacking another layer of who I am, what I value, who I wanted to surround myself with and my overall life goals/passions. That is the true beauty of this journey.

What was a highlight of the last four years for you?

The highlight of my college experience was deciding to room with my best friend since elementary school, as well as meeting the most amazing, inspiring and loving group of friends who were my support system through the most formative years of my life.

What would you tell your freshman self today?

As a freshman, I was certain that a career as a health professional was exactly what I wanted. Although I was certain this was the general field in which I could envision myself, I wasn’t completely set on the pre-med track. Instead of being honest and opening myself up to the wide variety of other career opportunities in the health care field, I continuously fed myself lies. If I were to speak to my freshman year self, I would advise myself to slow down and make time to self-reflect. I would ask myself, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?,” “What are some of the inner-critic messages that get in the way of setting/pursuing your biggest goals?” and “What would you be most proud to achieve in your lifetime?” Lastly, I would share the advice given to me by my favorite professor at USC, Assistant Professor Antonio Elefano: “No one is accountable for your own happiness but you. Be good, be strong, be smart, be persistent, but at the end of the day, be happy. Otherwise, what is all of this hard work for?”

Who or what at USC has had the greatest impact on the person you are today?

The most intelligent, hardworking and inspirational professor that I’ve come across in my four years at USC is without a doubt Professor Elefano. Coming into his legal writing class as someone not interested in the pre-law track, I knew there were easier ways to fulfill my writing requirement, but I stuck with it. Professor Elefano pushed us and expected nothing but excellence and growth with every assignment. He was the first professor that I’ve ever encountered who would grade our papers and hand them back to us the following day with detailed critiques and commentary, showcasing his diligence and commitment to our learning. Reflecting back, it is clear to me that this class is where I developed my best voice.

What’s next?

I plan on taking a gap year and applying to occupational therapy school. During my gap year, I plan to volunteer with children with developmental delays as well as premature infants and pediatric occupational therapists working in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

USC graduates then and now: Dan Brink

Dan Brink is graduating with a degree in narrative studies and a minor in business law. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)
2014 Danyal Brink as a freshman

Dan Brink is an avid athlete, sports fan, curious chemist and quoter of Latin. (Photo/David Sprague)

BA in narrative studies, minor in business law

The multifaceted freshman came to USC with talents in chemistry, athletics and art, and a penchant for quoting Latin. From the moment of his first campus tour, Brink said he “had that feeling that I belong here.” He saw USC as the perfect place to pursue a chemistry degree while exploring his diverse interests, and he couldn’t wait to jump right in.

What’s the biggest change you’ve noticed in yourself since we met you as a freshman?

Academically, I changed my major from chemistry to narrative studies. Personally, I am more outgoing and socially confident. During freshman year, I was more introverted and was worried about going to social events either on campus or off of it. Even talking to my peers in class was not the best experience for me. However, in working through these concerns both internally and externally and just forcing myself to get out there more often, I have found myself much more confident in my day-to-day life and generally happier overall because of it.

What was a highlight of the last four years?

The highlight has really been my ability to continually play with the USC Club baseball team. This is something I set out to do even before I arrived on campus. Not only is it a great time going out to practices and winning games with the guys, but it’s also fun just to hang out on road trips and during downtime between games and drills. It’s been even better than I imagined it could’ve been, especially with my role as the team’s design chair, and I’m glad that I have stuck with it through the last four years.

What would you tell your freshman self today?

I would tell my freshman self that no matter how tough the coursework or experience of being at USC, you should just keep persevering and trying your best because eventually it’ll all work out. Also, you should try to loosen up in social situations because it wouldn’t kill you to have some fun once in a while.

Who or what at USC has had the greatest impact on the person you are today?

At USC, my closest friends from my fraternity had the greatest impact on me. I saw what it meant to be a good student while being able to take a break and really enjoy the campus and environment. Without them, I truly believe that I would not have been able to succeed in either world — academic or social — as well as I have in these most recent years.

What’s next?

I am planning on attending law school and hope to continue my graphic design and T-shirt design hobbies on the side. Although I won’t be returning to USC in the fall, I will take the lessons and experience from my time here in Los Angeles into graduate school and beyond.

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