Graduates walking through the peristyle into the Coliseum and past a stage on the field as a crowd watches.
USC held its commencement ceremonies in the Coliseum for several decades before moving them to Alumni Park. (Photo/USC University Archives)

On a balmy, sun-kissed Saturday afternoon in June 1948, thousands of Trojan graduates marched in a procession across the field of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Faye Demetriou in a purple blouse and a pearl necklace and earrings.

Faye Demetriou earned her bachelor’s degree in 1948 and celebrated with her classmates in the Coliseum that summer. (Photo/Courtesy of Faye Demetriou)

Among the rows of students in caps and gowns walked a young woman named Faye “Fanny” Kyriax. Born in Kalavryta, Greece, she had come to USC from her home in southwest Los Angeles at age 16 to earn a bachelor’s degree in social sciences, then a master’s in education.

Seventy-eight years later, Faye K. Demetriou ’48, MS ’49 still remembers those moments. She was among the last USC students to celebrate graduation in the stadium, which stopped hosting commencement after 1950. Very soon, however, graduates will return to the historic venue.

Due to the pandemic, students will celebrate commencement at the Coliseum instead of Alumni Park this year. As they prepare to come back, USC Trojan Family caught up with the 94-year-old Demetriou to share memories about that long-ago time when Trojans last wore their mortarboards in the vaunted arena.

What was commencement like at USC in those days?

I remember going to graduations at USC before for other Greek people I knew, and those had been held in front of Doheny Library. The classes were smaller during the war. But when I was graduating, the GIs had come in and flooded every university in the country. I still think the GI Bill is the greatest thing our government has ever done. But the environment at USC changed dramatically. When I got there as a 16-year-old, it was very sparse on that campus. By the time graduation came along in 1948, the place was teeming with ex-GIs who dressed not in beautiful cashmere sweaters and good-looking slacks like the men had before but in some of their fatigues they had left over from the Army.

Black-and-white photo of Faye Demetriou in a graduation mortarboard and gown.

Demetriou remembers a joyous walk across campus to the Coliseum on a sunny Saturday more than 70 years ago.(Photo/Courtesy of Faye Demetriou)

Anyhow, they didn’t hold the ceremony in front of Doheny Library. I guess they thought there were too many of us. They told us we’d be graduating in the Coliseum. We got dressed up in our caps and gowns and were milling around. We started right there in front of Tommy Trojan, all lined up on University Avenue [now Trousdale Parkway]. I remember getting started and walking along, and everybody was feeling really good. After all, we had put in four years of hard labor in that school.

Just a few days before that, I had been called into the registrar’s office. He said he wanted me to know I had the highest GPA of anyone in the graduating class. I was surprised to hear that. I had been made Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Kappa Phi [both honor societies] — I had worked very hard. I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging, but I’m telling you the truth. I have a certificate on the wall that says I received the Emma Josephine Bradley Bovard Award [given to the woman with the highest GPA and most extracurricular service to the university]. I came in on a half-tuition scholarship, so I had to put in 50 hours of service work each semester.

What was the atmosphere like during that walk to the Coliseum?

A line of graduates in caps and gowns stretches across the Coliseum field in front of seats filled with onlookers.

Family members and friends gathered to celebrate the Class of 1948, one of the last commencement ceremonies held in the Coliseum until this year. (Photo/USC University Archives)

We were in a joyful mood. They marched us along University Avenue and through the Exposition Park rose garden to the north side of the Coliseum. They must have stopped traffic on Exposition Boulevard to allow us to pass. I remember thinking how beautiful the roses were. We entered the Coliseum and walked around to the west side.

We had been looking at that big scene for four years for every football game. I was in the junior honor society for women, so we always had to be out there selling pom-poms. Everyone would go to the football game and wave cardinal and gold pom-poms. Because we were doing that service for the university, they had a reserved section for us down in the second or third row of the student section. So, it was not a new thing for me to be seated in the Coliseum.

We were up high on the west side. They didn’t want the sun beating down on us, which was nice of them. It could be pretty hot when the sun was shining down on you for a couple of hours. We came down to the stage on the field and they gave us whatever we were given at that time — I don’t think it was our actual degree, but something that resembled it. Then they walked us back across to campus.

Did you meet up with friends and family?

You know, I don’t really remember what happened next. I know all the parents had to be there, but I guess I blanked all that out. But I was the first one in my family to graduate. So, they were all there. I had lost my parents in an automobile accident when I was 12, but my mother’s sister and her great-uncle and great-aunt were there. They had watched me grow up.

When I lost both parents, that was a real tragedy for me. I had been very close with my mother’s sister. She lived on the city’s outskirts, near 91st Street and Western Avenue. When I realized I was alone, I began to cry. My aunt came over and said, “Don’t worry, I’m going to take you to my house and you’re going to grow up with your cousins.” They were the kindest people. From the age of 12 until I got married, I lived with them — they were my second family, and they were at the ceremony.

Then I went out with friends afterward. We went to dinner and then went to a theater. That was a pretty common thing to do in those days. I remember we went to the Wiltern Theater, up on Wilshire. It’s still there! I wish I could remember the movie we saw, but I don’t!

I would also love to say that I went with the person I married five years later [James “Jim” Demetriou ’48, PhD ’56], but we didn’t go out that night. But we graduated in the same class. I had known him from the time I was 5 years old. He was two or three years older than I was. After he went into the military and came back, we really got to know each other those last few years at ‘SC. And we had a wonderful life together.

Do you have any advice for this year’s graduating students?

We had a ball at commencement, walking along and laughing and enjoying the experience. It’s quite a walk, if you think about it, but it didn’t seem that long that day. Students should go if they can. You don’t have to do it twice — but do it at least once!

 

Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

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