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Mary Perez had her cellphone out, filming the procession of black gowns flooding USC’s Alumni Park.
Her daughter, 17-year-old Katya Perez, was somewhere out there among roughly 4,000 freshmen and transfer students at USC’s 2018 new student convocation, the annual event welcoming the Class of 2022.
She was sending her only child off to college. Divorced, it’s just been the two of them for a long time.
“As hard as it is … I’m so happy for her,” she said, as she watched from Von KleinSmid Center.
The students at Thursday’s ceremony rose to the top of the pile of 64,000 applications, according to interim President Wanda M. Austin. Only 12.9 percent were accepted, the most competitive rate in USC’s history.
Austin told the class it is the “best of the best” but she also took a moment to thank parents, such as Perez, who supported their childrens’ dreams.
‘Value of education’
“I think back to my own parents. They didn’t have money to spare, but they understood the value of education. They knew it would open doors for me,” said Austin, who received her doctorate from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.
“But education did more than that. It gave me a passion for math, and later on, a passion for space exploration. It gave me a chance to make a difference in the world.”
As much as it was a day for celebration, Austin noted, it was a moment to reflect on the challenges the university has faced in the past year, too. Austin, a USC trustee and former aerospace executive, was named interim president last week.
“As we look forward, we will embrace the changes that make us stronger and enable us to flourish in the days, months and years ahead,” Austin said.
Undergraduate Student Government President Debbie Lee offered words of wisdom to the incoming class: Invest in yourself and your interests, be proactive and don’t be afraid to fail.
“The reality is, I am not perfect, we are not perfect and this school is not perfect,” Lee, a junior, said. “When you fail, don’t fret. You are never in this alone. You were never meant to do this alone.”
USC new student convocation: A bittersweet day
The day is bittersweet for Perez, an immigration attorney from San Diego. She’s losing her yoga buddy: She and her daughter trained for certification together. But it’s special to know she rubbed off on her daughter, a political science major at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences who is planning to follow in her footsteps and pursue law.
“Really, I inspired you? You survived me,” she said with a laugh.
She remembers taking her daughter into the courtroom with her when she was 8, as Perez was representing a juvenile client.
“She’s seen how intense it is,” she said, noting that she is carrying her laptop in her purse in case there’s time to do some work.
Her daughter moved into her residential college Wednesday. Mom helped with last-minute Target runs.
“I’m going to hang out till Friday, but she’s like ‘Go away already,’ ” she said.
But Perez might not be gone for long: Being a Trojan mom made her excited about school again.
“It makes me want to take the GREs. I want to come back and get my PhD,” she said. “It’s such an amazing school.”
Watch the ceremony: