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Valedictorian With a Sense of Justice

by Christine E. Shade

Trefz will graduate with a double major in history and political science.


Senior Katherine A. Trefz has been described as scholarly, quietly intense and ambitious. She also has a solid sense of social justiceand a plan for the future.
Being chosen USC’s 2005 valedictorian “is an incredible capstone moment for my college experience,” she said.
“I am absolutely honored and surprised to be named valedictorian,” said Trefz, who turns 22 in June. “I have truly loved my time at USC, and I’m a changed person in so many aspects of life because of my experiences here.”
Trefz will graduate with a 4.0 GPA while carrying a double major; she’ll receive a B.A. in history and a B.A. in political science from USC College. She also has an impressive background as a campus leader, volunteer, tutor and a mentor to other students both at USC and in the neighborhood.
Trefz will speak to her fellow graduates May 13 at USC’s 122nd commencement in Alumni Park.
“The theme is that we basically need to have a burden and an opportunity to be a student of life and to have a life of service,“ she said. “I think it’s reflective of a lot of values at USC. You can define service however you will, but it’s a need to make things better.”
Trefz said one of her professors made the wise comment that she was most inspired by people who changed her way of thinking so that she’ll never look at life quite the same way again.
She had that experience last spring when she was in the high-profile class “The Art and Adventure of Leadership,” taught by USC President Steven B. Sample and Distinguished University Professor of Business Warren Bennis.
“Dr. Bennis did that for me,” she said, “and he continues to do it, both formally through his writing, and informally, through his being.”
Her A grade in the course and her remarkable gifts in writing and organization, Bennis said, earned her the course assistant position this year.
Trefz said she’s been inspired by Bennis’ leadership theory that “centers on the idea of knowing yourself and employing your vision in the best way possible.” He asks you to look within as you seek to create change outwardly. “The concept is self-empowering but not selfish,” she said, “a hard balance to strike.”
“She has a remarkable combination of gifts,” Bennis said, “in the widest sense of being a human being. She has a brilliant mind, and I don’t think she’s quite aware of that yet.”
Bennis said that with her abilities, Trefz will be a winner at anything she attempts. He described her as having “no sense of arrogance – just a deep sense of humility about herself.”
Trefz, who has tutored student athletes in political science, history and American Studies, was a member of the USC Women’s Swim Team in her freshman and sophomore years and was a head coach in the Irvine Swim League from 1998 to 2004.
She has interned for the Orange County Public Defender’s office and directed the USC Student Senate’s Leadership Fund, where she managed an 11-member fund board and helped to allocate funds to student-run organizations for leadership development.
In 2004, she was a founding member of the Los Angeles Leadership Initiative, which organized a retreat in Sacramento for nine high-achieving secondary students from at-risk Los Angeles high schools.
She was director of communications, auction organizer and co-executive director of Troy Camp, USC’s oldest student-run community outreach program.
Terry Seip, associate professor of history in USC College, had Trefz in three upper division classes, including “19th Century America.”
“Katie ranks with the very best students I have had in 30 years,” Seip said. “She is just exceptional on all counts.”
Trefz earned a USC Presidential Scholarship and a Town and Gown Scholarship. In addition, she was a National Merit Scholar.
In March, she received a “Remarkable Woman Award” presented by the Office of Campus Activities and the Women’s Student Assembly, as well as the Josephine Bradley Bovard Award for scholarly achievements and leadership at USC’s 2005 Academic Convocation Awards ceremony.

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