Yearning for that fuzzy feeling that comes from reading an inspiring story? Look no further. From students giving college a shot later in life to staff and faculty members who encourage Trojans to break the mold, here are 10 stories that stuck with our USC News readers.
‣ Margarita Lopez
Margarita Lopez is a resilient woman, overcoming family tragedy and finishing her associate’s degree in her 50s so that she could fulfill her lifelong dream of going to a four-year college, transferring to USC at age 58.
‣ Neel Tiruviluamala
USC math professor Neel Tiruviluamala learned early on that math could be fun. As a kid, his grandma came up with fun math games for him to play. Now, as one of USC’s most beloved instructors, he tries to pass on that passion — using riddles as conversation starters with residents in his dorm hall or students in his classroom.
‣ Sophie Wix
Sophie Wix was only 16 when she realized her passion for medicine. “It is the most rewarding profession,” she told her parents at the time. “It would be a privilege to go into work every day and potentially save or change someone’s life.” That passion led her to USC, where she earned a degree in health and human sciences while working alongside leading researchers to develop new ways to find and fight cancer. The experience earned Wix a spot in the lab of a top cancer scientist at the University of Cambridge as USC’s first Fulbright scholarship recipient to the United Kingdom.
‣ Katherine Ho
Coldplay’s “Yellow,” sung in Mandarin, was one of the top songs of the 2018 hit film Crazy Rich Asians. The voice behind the popular tune might be familiar to Trojans: The singer is USC student Katherine Ho.
‣ Anthony Llamas
First-generation college student Anthony Llamas worked hard to get to USC — from an hours-long commute to his high school, where he got in via a scholarship, to sleepless nights cramming for AP exams. All the while, he was living in a garage with his family, his parents working around the clock cleaning homes and driving for Uber to support him and his siblings.
‣ Demontea Thompson
Growing up in kinship care in Compton wasn’t easy for Demontea Thompson. But he had the support and guidance of key figures, like his great-uncle and great-aunt who took him in as a child and the mentors in college who inspired him to fight for positive change in the foster care system. Now he’s using his USC master’s degree in education to advocate for foster youth — his way of honoring the sacrifices of those who helped him overcome obstacles on his path to success.
‣ Jake Olson
Retinal cancer robbed Jake Olson of his sight at age 12, but the faithful USC fan realized his childhood dream of joining the Trojan football team as a long snapper. He inspired countless people around the world after snapping an extra point in the first game of the 2017 season, and he has big — and surprising — plans for his future.
‣ Kenji Inaba
Kenji Inaba spends many intense and grueling hours in one of the nation’s busiest hospitals, Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center, where he performs complex surgeries and trains others in emergency medicine. But when he’s not patching up gunshot victims or researching the latest trauma care procedures, he hits the streets in a Los Angeles Police Department squad car as a reserve police officer and the department’s first and only chief surgeon. It’s all part of his dedication to volunteerism and service.
‣ Ethan Ward
Now entering USC in his 30s, Ethan Ward brings a wealth of life experience, including past brushes with the law and a recent stint of homelessness. He hopes he can address those and other social justice issues while studying journalism and communication at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
‣ Sydney Siegel/Art Rx
USC alumna Sydney Siegel’s workshops meld art with physical and emotional pain. Painting over her arms and seeing her scars from prior self-harm on paper made student Breana Wiles open up about her struggles with cutting, leading her to educate others on campus.
‣ Ryan Lopez
Science whiz Ryan Lopez overcame difficult circumstances growing up in South L.A. to earn his undergraduate degree in chemistry at USC. It’s the first step toward reaching his goal of completing a PhD and returning to serve those who helped him persevere. “Ultimately, I see myself giving back to my community,” he said. “I can show these kids that, hey, someone who has your background and went through your struggles was able to overcome that to get a doctorate.”