Thousands of students, parents, faculty and friends turned out Friday, May 10 to celebrate the graduation of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s “best, best educated, and most representative [students] in our history,” Dean Yannis C. Yortsos said.
The graduates, resplendent in black robes accented with crimson-and-gold sashes, proudly walked across the stage to thunderous applause as they received 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’s dean 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; and USC interim president and former Aerospace Corporation chief executive, Wanda Austin.
The Class of 2019, the dean noted, is one of the most diverse in the school’s history. Members come from 44 countries, including Brazil, Saudi Arabia and South Korea, not to mention large contingents from China and India. The class also boasts 50 graduates with perfect 4.0 GPAs.
Nearly one-third of the graduates are women, Yortsos said, representing “the changing face of engineering – what we do, who we are, and what we look like.”
At the Galen Center ceremony, Ali Velshi, an MSNBC anchor and business correspondent for NBC News and MSNBC, spoke about the power of engineering as a force of good, encouraging graduates to make ethical choices as they transform society.
“I implore you to move forward morally, to create for good, to create in order to help. That’s a personal choice that binds all of us, but it is also one that will secure our future,” he said.
“We are at a time where so much of what you choose to do with your skills as engineers will affect all our lives,” Velshi added. “And where your career will take you tomorrow is only limited by the same ingenuity you have put into your academic careers so far.”
Velshi, who shared that he once considered becoming an engineer himself, ended his address by saying that he expected greatness from the gifted graduates.
“I look forward to one day reading and reporting on your accomplishments as you help our society develop,” he said, “and maybe even interview you about your life’s work on television or whatever medium you create to replace it.”
The USC Viterbi alumnus spoke about three important lessons that he tries to pass along to new Google employees: how to define success, how to achieve it, and the requisite skills needed to flourish.
Barosso warned against confusing product “launches” with product “landings.” Said Barosso: “For us, a landing is not the introduction of a new thing, but the moment when something meaningful was actually achieved by the new thing. Landings are moments when success metrics are reached, such as great user adoption of a product, or a material business goal being achieved. Landings are what we work for, what we celebrate, what we reward.”
Next, he talked about achieving success through the “relentless pursuit of small, incremental improvements — or what I’ve come to call ‘roofshots.’ We start with a big idea to give us direction, and we grind it out from then on with the power of compounding.”
Finally, Barosso said that the ability to collaborate with others has increasingly become a needed skill to reach one’s full potential.
“When I joined USC nearly 30 years ago to start my master’s, the state of the computing industry was such that I often dreamed of accomplishing remarkable things through my own individual work,” he said. “Today, the ambitious nature of our projects and the resulting complexity of the things we build are so massive that they are unlikely to be the result of a single person’s contributions. More than ever, computing is a team sport.”
For the first time, graduating students delivered commencement addresses at both ceremonies.
At the Galen event, Melisa Osborne, who served as president of the Viterbi Graduate Student Association for the 2018-2019 academic year and graduated with a master’s degree in biomedical engineering, spoke about her tenure at VSGA and commitment to student advocacy, among other subjects.
“This year especially, it has been so important for us as students to make our voices heard on campus,” said Osborne, who joined the Trojan family as an undergraduate and looks forward to pursing a Ph.D. in molecular biology at the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences. “Through VGSA, we made sure that we came together as one cohesive voice and that each Viterbi graduate student was supported by the power of 5,000.”
At the Shrine ceremony, Oluwaseun Oluwasegun Deleawe – the founder and first president of Graduates Rising in Informatics and Data Science, the first university-recognized graduate student organization within the Department of Computer Science – spoke about the importance of his seven personal core values, “which have been key to my growth and development throughout my USC Viterbi journey:” “high engagement,” “pervasive integrity,” “a value creation mindset,” “excellence in execution,” “strategic problem solving” “proper prioritization” and “decisiveness.”
“So, fellow graduates, as we transition into the post master’s phase of our lives, I want to challenge us to dream bigger, bolder and with more intentionality than we did yesterday, striving for excellence in all we do,” said Deleawe, who earned a Master of Science in applied data science and is the founder of Top Technologies, Inc., a user-centric educational technology company.
“What impact will you have?” he asked “What legacy will you leave? And in doing so, what core values will you uphold?”
Dean Yortsos ended his addresses by telling graduates that USC Viterbi had provided them with the knowledge and skills to make a difference.
“Graduates, as you prepare to enter the ‘real world,’ remember that it grows more complex each day, and so do the challenges and opportunities unfolding before you,” he said. “But you have studied the right disciplines for your times, and you have been equipped with the best toolkit for the 21st Century.
“We have given you a canvas and colors. Now, it’s up to you to paint the beautiful pictures of the future.” Yortsos added. “I can’t wait to see all the wonderful things you’re going to do.”