They gathered with family, friends and beloved professors. They wore black robes, crimson and gold sashes, and black mortarboards. They shared hugs, laughs and memories.
They are graduates from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s master’s class of 2018, arguably the strongest in the school’s history. On Friday, May 11, they proudly walked across the stage to receive their newly minted diplomas.
To accommodate the large number of students, USC Viterbi held two commencement master’s ceremonies: one in the afternoon at the Galen Center and another in the early evening at the Shrine Auditorium for computer science and informatics graduates.
At both events, USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos told the assembly that they would “join a pantheon of USC Viterbi alumni that are the envy of any university.”
Distinguished past graduates include Neil Armstrong, the first human to walk on the moon; Andrew Viterbi, namesake of the school and the Viterbi Algorithm and co-founder of tech giant Qualcomm; former Aerospace Corporation’s chief executive, Wanda Austin; and Apple cofounder, Mike Markkula.
The Class of 2018, the dean noted, is one of the most diverse in the school’s history. Members come from 42 countries, including Mexico, Kazakhstan and Ethiopia, not to mention large contingents from China and India. The class also boasts 32 graduates with perfect 4.0 GPAs.
At the Galen Center ceremony, alumna Austin of the Aerospace Corporation – a nonprofit organization dedicated to solving critical issues in the nation’s space program – spoke about the value of a USC Viterbi education, the integral role engineers play in society, and the need to remain open to new ideas and ways of approaching problems.
Austin, who earned a USC Viterbi doctorate in 1988 in systems engineering, told the graduates that they had made an excellent decision in becoming Trojans.
“I hope you realize that a degree from Viterbi represents a remarkable investment that will pay dividends again and again. In addition to being a member of the Trojan family, you are now a leader in the intellectual, cultural and spiritual fabric of the world,” she said.
“Indeed, as Dean Yortsos has said, ‘The world is being recreated and re-imagined like never before at an astonishing speed,’” Austin added. “Now you have the opportunity to set the direction and ultimate goals for serving and changing our society.”
Austin encouraged the future engineers to remain flexible and adaptable.
“So my advice to you is, going forward, embrace the change. Look for it. Anticipate it. Prepare for it. And leverage it to get the outcome that you value,” she said. “Choose to grab the steering wheel and drive the changes necessary to achieve your goals within the complex and changing world that will surround you every day.”
The Shrine Auditorium commencement featured keynote speaker, Harel Kodesh, operating partner at Silver Lake, a private equity firm. He shared some life lessons with the jubilant crowd.
Kodesh told the graduates that they needed to always strive to learn and keep intellectually engaged, lest the turbo-charged pace of technological change leave them behind.
“Tomorrow is going to be the first day in your career where you start falling behind and unless you do something, it will not stop,” Kodesh said. “So, do yourself a favor – take couple of days off every once in a while, and read a book, or a blog, or go back to school for a course or two and keep fresh.”
Kodesh also told the graduates to slow down and enjoy life, which need not be an incessant race to achieve. “Don’t worry about sitting couple of month or even a year out,” he said. “When Paul McCartney and the Beatles recorded their song ‘When I’m 64,’ it was synonymous with ‘when I am very old.’ With life expectancy into the nineties by 2050, you will have plenty of time to work.”
Like Austin, Kodesh extolled USC Viterbi’s commitment to excellence. A graduate of Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Kodesh sent two of his children to Troy, including one to USC Viterbi.
“Through them, I realized that what makes a great American university is the ability to teach the next [generation of] tech leaders and conduct cutting-edge technological research, while at the same time being able to shape it from a position of knowledge of media, policy, society and ethics,” Kodesh said. “There are very few universities that can offer that holistic approach, and you are fortunate to launch your career from here.”
Dean Yortsos ended his addresses by encouraging graduates to aim high and know that they would always have the support of USC Viterbi.
“And so as you leave today, this is my wish for you: Follow your heart and your intuition and reach for the stars!” he said. “And when you reach there, take a moment to look back, and you will see a caring and supporting institution that admires you, is proud of you and embraces you for all the wonders you are certain to accomplish.”