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A Day of Celebration, 2000

by Melissa Payton

Commencement begins with the president’s guests marching from Bovard to the speakers’ platform in front of Doheny Memorial Library.

Photos by Irene Fertik

On Friday, May 12, the Class of 2000 will say goodbye to four years at USC – four years of front-row participation in the university’s continued rise in selectivity, academic rigor, community outreach and financial stability.

Along with 25,000 friends, faculty and family members who will crowd into Alumni Memorial Park, the new graduates will hear Disney chairman and CEO Michael D. Eisner deliver the main address for the university’s 117th annual commencement ceremonies. Thousands more relatives and friends worldwide are expected to watch the event via simultaneous Webcast.

In addition to conferring 4,630 bachelor’s degrees, President Steven B. Sample will award 2,970 master’s degrees and 1,070 professional doctorates and Ph.D.s at commencement.

The processional march into Alumni Park will begin at 8:30 a.m., followed by the commencement ceremony at 9 a.m.

Eisner, a Hollywood veteran who has been at the center of American popular culture for 30 years, joined the Walt Disney Co. in 1984. Called “one of America’s most creative executives” by biographer Ron Grover, he is credited with reviving the once-ailing entertainment company with a string of hit movies and animated films. He also restored profitability to Disney’s theme parks and increased the value of the company’s stock.

Eisner and his wife, Jane, created the Eisner Foundation in 1996 with an $89 million gift. The foundation funds children’s organizations and public school, medical and dental-care programs.

At commencement, USC will confer honorary doctorates on Eisner and four others:

• Architect Frank Gehry, who earned a B.A. from USC in 1954 and went on to design some of the most honored and talked-about buildings in the world, including the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain; the 1991 Chiat/Day building in Venice, Calif.; and the much-awaited Disney Hall in downtown Los Angeles. In 1989, he was awarded the Pritzker Prize for architecture.

• George W. Housner, the “founding father” of modern earthquake engineering, who joined the faculty of Caltech in 1945 and embarked on a pioneering career in teaching and research. Housner devised new methods to analyze how structures respond to ground motion and served as a consultant on the seismic designs of major projects, including the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit System, the Trans-Arabian Pipeline, and nuclear power plants, high-rise buildings, dams and port facilities worldwide.

• Philanthropist Elaine Otter Leventhal, who with her husband, Kenneth, gave $15 million to the USC School of Accounting, which now bears their name. Elaine helped her husband launch their accounting firm, Kenneth Leventhal & Co., just days after their wedding in 1949. Her devotion to education, culture and literature has led her to work for several charitable causes, including Friends of the USC Libraries, the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History and the USC Medical Faculty Women’s Association Research Fund.

• Entrepreneur Kenneth Leventhal, whose Kenneth Leventhal & Co. became the nation’s ninth-largest certified public accounting firm by 1994. One of the founders in the 1960s of the USC School of Accounting, he has been a member of the USC board of trustees since 1977, serving since 1996 as chairman of USC’s record-setting Building on Excellence fund-raising campaign.

Valedictorian Jacob Chacko, graduating with majors in biology and gerontology and a minor in health policy management, will also speak at the commencement ceremony.

Speakers at the individual schools’ satellite ceremonies after the main ceremony range from actor Sidney Poitier (cinema-TV) to Geocities founder David Bohnett (undergraduate business) and Drew Pinsky (medicine), the “Dr. Drew” of the popular call-in radio show “Loveline.” Both Bohnett and Pinsky are USC graduates.

Poitier, a member of the School of Cinema-Television board of councilors, is known for his groundbreaking roles in American cinema. He won an Oscar for best actor – the only African-American to do so – for “Lilies of the Field” (1963) and starred in “Blackboard Jungle,” “Raisin in the Sun,” “To Sir With Love,” “A Patch of Blue,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and others.

A famously private actor, he was the subject of a PBS documentary, “Sidney Poitier: One Bright Light,” that aired in February. In his non-acting life, Poitier, who grew up in the Bahamas, has served as the Bahamanian ambassador to Japan since 1997.

Other satellite speakers include actor and USC alumnus John Ritter (theater), radio dramatist Norman Corwin (journalism), USC University and Distinguished Professor Warren G. Bennis (graduate business), state Sen. Martha Escutia (nursing) and interim Superintendent Ramon Cortines of the Los Angeles Unified School District (education).

For the first time, two giant-screen Jumbotron TVs will be installed to give crowds in the back a better view of the speakers’ platform in front of Doheny Memorial Library.

“In the last few years, be cause of the increasing crowds at commencement, the people at the back have had no chance of seeing what’s going on at the platform,” said University Marshal John Callaghan. The screens will be in stalled in Hahn Plaza and Founders Park, flanking Alumni Park.

Also new this year will be two full days of pre-commencement events, from the Graduate School Recognition Awards Ceremony at 10 a.m. Wednesday, May 10, in Harris Hall 101, to the Latino and African-American students’ special ceremonies at 7:30 p.m. on May 11.

In previous years, commencement came the day after the last day of final exams, resulting in a “tremendous rush” for graduating students, Callaghan said. But this year, the school calendar was changed to end finals on the Tuesday before commencement, and organizers have planned a series of events for the intervening days, some of them brand new.

“We really wanted to give all the students the honor and recognition they deserve for all they have done,” Callaghan said.

Other pre-commencement events include the Phi Kappa Phi Awards, doctoral hooding ceremonies, the Alumni Association Festival and the Senior Recognition Awards Ceremony on Thursday, May 11.

In another change, the baccalaureate ceremony, at 5 p.m. Thursday in Bovard Auditorium, will precede the traditional student-parent dinner at 6:30 in Town and Gown. In past years, the ceremony has followed the dinner; Callaghan believes the change will improve attendance at both.

This year, commencement planners had to contend with the $10.5 million earthquake retrofit project underway at Doheny Library, the usual backdrop for the speakers’ platform. Rather than go against tradition, the commencement organizers worked with construction supervisors to temporarily move fences and install artificial turf where landscaping has been removed at the work site.

“Stan Westfall, our liaison with the Doheny construction people, and the crews themselves have been very, very cooperative,” Callaghan said. “Scaffolding that is up in certain areas will be visible, but I’m hopeful that there will be very little disruption.”

For the second year, a professionally produced video recording of the ceremony will be offered to graduates and family members, he said. The package of commencement information mailed to all parents and students contains information on the video and an order form. Order forms can also be downloaded from the main USC commencement Web site (see box below).

As in past years, broadcast journalism professor Terry Anzur and Joseph P. Allen, vice provost for enrollment and dean of admission and financial aid, will conduct interviews with commencement guests and university leaders for the commencement Webcast.

Dennis Cornell, executive director of Special Events Services, will again be the commencement announcer.

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