USC News

Menu Search

Let Their Lives Commence

(Top) Marilyn Chow gets a kiss from her fiance, Teh-Li Chi, in front of Widney Alumni House. Both received Ph.D.s in pharmacy. (Bottom) New graduates pose in front of Tommy Trojan. Over 8,500 students received diplomas during this year’s Commencement ceremony.

Commencement photos by Irene Fertik

Armed with newly minted diplomas and departing words of wisdom, more than 8,500 students transitioned into the ranks of USC alumni at the 119th annual Commencement ceremony, held this past May.

The day began with the traditional procession into Alumni Park. In front of 25,000 delighted friends, faculty and family, President Steven B. Sample conferred 4,381 bachelor’s degrees, 3,265 master’s degrees and 1,151 doctorates on the Class of 2002. In his speech, Sample recalled the horrific events of Sept. 11 and the reserves of strength that the USC community called upon to deal with the after effects. “The tragedy brought us closer together,” he said. “In many ways, there was no better place to be than at this university.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Halberstam, who delivered the Commencement address, also touched upon the terrorist attacks and the changes they had wrought on the country. “Your own confidence in your future is clouded slightly by the fact that you graduate into a dramatically changed America,” he said, but urged graduates to hold on to idealism and pursue a career path dictated by personal interests rather than societal pressures. “Use your lives wisely, and try and make choices – even in your professional lives – that are of the heart,” he said, adding, “In all things in life, choose your conscience and trust your instincts. It’s easier that way.”

Valedictorian Stanley Chou echoed those sentiments, calling upon his fellow graduates to realize their professional potential while simultaneously forging indelible memories. “We must approach our future with hopefulness, while cherishing the past with gratitude,” he said. “Be bold. Improve yourselves and others in all ways possible.”

Despite the sometimes somber themes, an air of festivity pervaded the proceedings. Graduates sported celebratory leis and sunglasses; family members jockeyed into position to take photographs and videos. At one point a plane flew overhead, trailing the message “Congrats Roxanne and Class of 2002.”

Clockwise – (Top Left) 1 – Friends and family filled the University Park campus to take in the proceedings.
2 – Graduating senior Chris Hanson lets out a whoop as his school, engineering, enters the quad.
3 – Paul Mac (foreground) and Truc Nguyen wait for the chance to photograph their graduates.
4 – Cindy and Daniel Randopoulos catch daughter Christina in the procession. She earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering.
(Bottom) 5 – Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard ’73, with Elizabeth Daley, dean of the USC School of Cinema-Television.

Commencement photos by Irene Fertik

The ceremony ended with the traditional playing of “Conquest” by the Trojan Marching Band. Gleeful graduates then dispersed to locate their families and to mill about with friends before heading on to the two dozen individual school ceremonies held across campus.

Many school speakers touched upon the rewards and perils of their chosen fields. Academy Award-winning director (A Beautiful Mind) Ron Howard ’73, speaking to the School of Cinema-Television graduates, good-humoredly detailed some of the harsher realities of a career in the entertainment world. “I can’t predict the course or outcome of any of your careers, but I can do this. I can predict some particular emotions that I know you’ll feel,” he said. “I know that somewhere along the line you will feel tremendous insecurity. I mean deep, neurotic insecurity. Sorry, it’s just inevitable.”

Linda Wertheimer, senior national correspondent for National Public Radio, offered more encouraging words to graduates of the School of Journalism. “A life of constant education is ahead of you,” she said. “This is a life which is never boring, which is never routine, and it is also very important work.”

Other school speakers included Deborah Borda, managing director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic (USC Thornton School of Music), and actor, director and producer Henry Winkler (School of Social Work). Winkler’s son, Max, enters the School of Cinema-Television this fall.

To acknowledge graduates’ newfound status as alumni, the USC Alumni Association opened the doors of Widney Alumni House to students and their families. Visitors took the opportunity to touch base with fellow grads and to learn more about alumni benefits and clubs. Outside, robed graduates lined up to have their photos taken next to a “2002” balloon arch positioned in front of the white clapboard house.

“The Alumni Association’s annual open house gives us the opportunity to officially welcome new graduates into the Trojan Family as alumni,” said Judith Blumenthal, associate vice president of alumni relations. “For many it is the first time they have visited the alumni house, and they are inspired by its rich history.”

Commencement photos by Irene Fertik

As their time at USC drew to a close, students took the chance to reflect on their tenure at the university and what the future may hold.

Many felt a calm that came with the completion of their academic responsibilities. “I feel a relaxation I haven’t felt in about three years,” said Alysia Piffero, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in industrial psychology. “It’s amazing. I’m done. All the hard work has paid off,” added Mehul Asher, who earned a master’s degree in computer science in December.

Others voiced apprehension as to what post-collegiate life would bring. “It feels good, but at the same time, I’m nervous about going out in the real world, finding a job and whatnot,” said Yeun Ju Yim, who received dual bachelor’s degrees in sociology and political science.

“USC creates an environment where you feel loved and you feel protected,” said David Kirschner, who earned a bachelor’s in cinema-television. “After I moved that tassel to the other side of my cap, it was like, ‘Time to go out to the real world.’”

Yet all agree that their ties to USC are indelible. “There’s something so significant in being part of something that’s bigger than yourself,” said graduate Patti Dillon. Added Yim, “Once you’re a Trojan, you’re always a Trojan. I really believe that.”

– Meaghan Agnew

Posthumous Immortality

Backed by two Trojan advocates, USC dental school alumnus Benjamin Salomon ’37 receives the Congressional Medal of Honor.

When Ben Salomon ’37 was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on May 1, there were no surviving family members to accept the medal. But two of Salomon’s greatest champions were there at the White House ceremony.

Benjamin Lewis Salomon in 1937.

Salomon photo courtesy of usc archives

John Ingle, former dean of the USC School of Dentistry, and Robert West ’52, a dental school graduate, fought their own long battle to get the soldier-dentist recognized for his courage.

Salomon graduated from the USC dental school in 1937, started his own practice in Beverly Hills and was drafted into the U.S. Army as an infantry private in 1940. His regiment was shipped to Saipan in June of 1944, and Salomon – now a captain – volunteered to replace a surgeon who was wounded in a mortar attack.

A series of events led to the desperate situation Salomon and his fellow soldiers found themselves in on the morning of July 7, 1944.

In a last-ditch effort, a Japanese commander had ordered a banzai attack on American forces. The Japanese soldiers, who numbered in the thousands, advanced on the American troops and breached the perimeter of the area where Salomon was treating the wounded.

With rifle, knife and bayonet, he fought off the enemy who tried to enter the tent, then ran outside to get help, according to official accounts. But gunners assigned to protect the aid station had been killed.

When Salomon realized he was on his own, he ordered his medical staff to evacuate the wounded while he stayed behind.

“He went outside, picked up one of the machine guns and yelled back to his men, ‘I can do a lot more out here than I can in there. Evacuate all of these wounded men back to safety…. I’m going to hold these guys off as long as I can,’” said West. “Then he said, ‘I’ll see you later.’ Those were the last words ever heard from Ben Salomon.”

Salomon was later found slumped over the machine gun, his finger still on the trigger, his body riddled with 76 bullet holes.

“It ends up that he saved the lives of all of those men, including all of the medics and the wounded men in that tent,” West said.

Salomon was unsuccessfully
recommended for the Medal of Honor several times during the last few decades. Fellow servicemen made efforts on his behalf; Ingle tried from 1969 to 1972; West worked on the project from 1997 on.

Although the government hadn’t recognized Salomon’s heroism, he was not forgotten in the dental and military communities. In 1969, the USC School of Dentistry named a clinic after him, and, in 1973, a dental clinic at Fort Benning, Ga., was dedicated in his memory.

Then, in March of this year, West got a call from the Pentagon with the news that Salomon’s citation was on President Bush’s desk.

“I went right through the ceiling. I was on cloud nine,” West said. “I couldn’t believe it. I actually waded through all that bureaucracy. It was probably one of the most emotional, dramatic moments of my life.”

West and Ingle traveled to Washington, D.C., to accept Salomon’s Medal of Honor. During the ceremony, President Bush presented the award to West, calling him a “true friend.”

West said he plans to give the medal to U.S. Army Major Gen. Patrick Sculley, chief of the U.S. Army Dental Corps, who will, in turn, give it to an army museum in San Antonio, Texas. A replica will go to the USC School of Dentistry.

“Even though I never met the man, I feel like I know him,” West said. “I know you’re smiling up there, Ben.”

– Usha Sutliff

Pulitzer-Winning Editorials

Alex Raskin ’84, a Los Angeles Times editorial writer, earned dual honors for his journalistic prowess this past spring, winning the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing in April, then following up the honor with the Sigma Delta Chi award 14 days later.

Alex Raskin

Raksin photo courtesy of Los Angeles Times

Raskin, together with co-worker Bob Sipchen, won both awards for “Helping People Off the Streets,” an editorial series addressing the plight of the mentally ill living on the streets in California. In selecting the pair’s work, the Pulitzer board recognized them “for distinguished editorial writing, the test of excellence being clearness of style, moral purpose, sound reasoning, and power to influence public opinion in what the writer conceives to be the right direction.”

Journalism professor Jack Langguth, who taught Raskin while he was at USC, called to congratulate Raskin on the double win. “I thought it was just fantastic and well-deserved,” Langguth said.

Reflecting Back, Looking Forward

The USC Black Alumni Association raises over $125,000 at the 24th annual Black Alumni Awards gala.

Bravery and philanthropy were the unofficial honorees of the evening at USC’s 24th annual Black Alumni Awards gala, held in April.

Appropriately themed “Courage, Distinction and Service,” the dinner honored African-American alumni for achievements and for contributions to the university and the community at large.

Major General Peter J. Gravett (left) and Major General Charles F. Bolden (center) stand with presenter Lieutenant Colonel Thomas McLurkin. Gravett and Bolden were this year’s recipients of the 2002 BAA Emé Award.

Awards dinner photo by Leroy Hamilton

Charles F. Bolden Jr. ’78 (U.S. Marine Corps) and Peter J. Gravett ’77 (U.S. Army National Guard) received a standing ovation as Thomas McLurkin Jr. ’76, MPA ’80 presented them with the Emé Award, the BAA’s highest honor. The duo shared the distinction for ensuring homeland security and peace-keeping and humanitarian relief efforts around the globe.

Nine other Trojans from medicine, education, entertainment and professional sports were also recognized. They are:

• Outstanding Alumnae: Two awards, to Angela Northington ’95, vice president for acquisitions and development for Urban Entertainment; and Nichelle Protho ’92, vice president for programming and production for Urban Entertainment.

• Outstanding Alumnus: This award went to Oscar Streeter Jr. ’78, associate professor at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

• Kilgore Service Award: William Allen Young ’80, actor, director and philanthropist.

• Solomon Faculty Award: Althea M. Alexander, associate dean of the Keck School of Medicine, Office of Diversity, who was honored for her long career of service in helping students from a variety of backgrounds succeed in medical school.

• Brice Union Taylor Award: Given to Don A. Buford Jr. ’59, ’72, director of minor league operations of the Baltimore Orioles.

• Founders Award: Patrick Holloway ’84, president of Affirmed First Aid & Safety.

This year’s event raised more than $125,000 to be used to fund scholarships and other programs for African-American students attending USC.

To date, the BAA has awarded more than $800,000 to some 1,200 continuing and transfer students attending the university.

“Every year, the Awards and Scholarship Gala keeps growing bigger and better,” says Black Alumni Programs director Lura Ball ’79. “Our success as an organization fortifies the future of USC African-American scholars. I am thrilled with this year’s results.”

Tabled Tennis Career

Dick Leach

Leach photo courtesy of usc sports

When USC men’s tennis coach Dick Leach ’62 announced he was stepping down from his coaching duties following the completion of the 2002 season, his players decided to send him off in championship fashion. The USC men’s tennis team won its first NCAA team title since 1994, defeating top-ranked defending champion Georgia 4-1 to cap a remarkable run of playoff victories over higher-seeded opponents.

“Is this a dream or what?” Leach told the Los Angeles Times. “I didn’t think we’d even have a chance. I was just happy to win one match.”

The unexpected championship topped nearly a quarter century of achievement for the legendary coach. Over 23 years, Leach’s teams won a total of eight conference titles, capturing four NCAA championships in 22 post-season appearances. Leach himself was named ITA National Coach of the Year twice and Pac-10 Coach of the Year four times. His leadership produced 35 All-Americans, including sons Rick Leach ‘88 and Jon Leach ’95.

“We’re losing a legend at USC and in the tennis community,” says USC athletic director Mike Garrett ’65. “He is as much a Trojan as anyone has ever been.”

Given his remarkable track record, Leach leaves coaching free of any unrealized goals.

“In these 23 years, I’ve accomplished everything I set out to do when I first took the job in 1980,” he says. “I’m most proud of my NCAA titles and that both my sons played for me, but now I can spend more time watching my family grow.”

SF Club Goes Classical

On a spring evening in May, members of the USC Golden Gate Alumni Club gathered at Davies Symphony Hall to take in the classical strains of the San Francisco Symphony, led by music director Michael Tilson Thomas ‘67, MM ‘76, at center below. Club officers with him are, from left, Jimmy Wong ‘91, Paul Cummings Jr. ‘78, Kevin Ponti ‘93 and Rachael Kim ‘94.

(Top) Alumni Association Officers
(Bottom) USC Golden Gate Alumni Club

Alumni Association Officers

Reginald Lathan ‘76 (below, center) was sworn in as the 2002-03 USC Alumni Association president in May. With him are (left to right): past president Robert Rollo ‘69, MBA ‘70; USC senior vice president for university relations Martha Harris; president-elect Ann Lipscomb Hill ’71, MA ’74; and USC associate vice president for alumni relations Judith Blumenthal MBA ’84, PhD ‘88.

Ragan on the Danube

Professor James Ragan

Professional writing professor James Ragan stands in front of the Danube River with the Budapest Parliament in the background. Ragan was the featured guest of the USC Trojan Travel trip, “Cruise the Face of Europe,” in early May. During the two-week voyage, Ragan discussed his poetry and screenwriting experiences.

More stories about:

Let Their Lives Commence

Top stories on USC News