Thousands of joyous USC Viterbi students, parents, faculty and friends filled Alumni Park on Friday, May 12, to celebrate the 2023 undergraduate commencement.
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. They seemed particularly joyous this year after experiencing so much uncertainty, isolation and turmoil during the COVID-19 pandemic. They shared hugs, high-fives and laughter.
USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos said he expected great things from the distinguished and resilient class of 2023.
“The post-COVID world ahead provides the incredible opportunity of an unpainted canvas, on which you will be asked to imagine new engineering and technology innovation, with an increasingly human-centric focus,” he said. “The world impatiently waits for you, and you are ideally prepared for it.”
Specifically, the dean said he expected the graduates to “address the Grand Challenges of our time – whether making solar energy competitive or securing cyberspace, exploring space, engineering better medicines, providing access to clean water, and addressing climate change.”
Yortsos said the “Engineering+” education that graduates had received at USC Viterbi, which emphasizes trustworthiness and character as much as technical competence, has prepared them well.
Said Yortsos: “You are changing the conversation about engineering: who we are, what we do and what we look like. And you present a blueprint for a new breed of engineers with competence and purpose. This set of mindsets is inspiring and will provide the leadership of tomorrow.”
Keynote speaker Mark Stevens, managing partner of S-Cubed Capital and a special limited partner and former managing partner of Sequoia Capital, a globally prominent venture capital firm known for backing tech leaders such as Apple, Cisco, Google and Nvidia, talked about the “power” and “versatility” of a USC Viterbi degree.
Stevens, who earned a B.S. in electrical engineering and a B.A. in economics in 1981, and an M.S. in computer engineering in 1984, all from USC, said engineers across the globe have for centuries developed innovative products and technologies that have improved the lives of billions of people. Still, many “grand challenges” remain, and USC Viterbi students possess the skillsets to address them.
“The threats of climate change, economic and cultural inequality, the instability of supply chains and the risk of geopolitical conflict are just a few of these challenges,” said Stevens, who also holds an MBA from Harvard. “I am supremely confident that the latest generation of engineers and, specifically, Viterbi engineers, will lead the path to solving these challenges.”
He added that the versatility of an engineering degree can “propel you to seek a career in medicine, law, or in public service. You might even find yourself investing in promising, early-stage companies as a venture capitalist like I did!”
Artificial intelligence also presents opportunities, Stevens said. He argued that the world has experienced three major technological dislocations since his senior year at USC: the introduction of the personal computer, the widespread adoption of the internet and the ubiquity of mobile/cloud computing. With AI, Stevens said, we’re “on the brink of a massive, fourth generation technology dislocation,” for better and for worse.
“It is both a massive opportunity to improve the well-being of a great number of people and, paradoxically, to become a considerable threat to the cohesion and health of our global society,” said Stevens, who serves on both the USC Viterbi Board of Councilors and on the USC Board of Trustees.
Student commencement speaker Neha Yadav, a summa cum laude majoring in biomedical engineering, said that for years she had struggled with what she wanted to do when she grew up. Finally, Yadav decided the question was “worthless.”
“I can’t tell you what I want to be when I grow up, but I can tell you who I want to be and what I want to do,” she said.
Yadav said she wants to be empathetic like the women who cleaned her dorm room her first year at USC and comforted her as she worried about finals. She wants to be patient like the brilliant USC Viterbi professors who always made time to answer her queries. Finally, Yadav wants to be “exemplary” like her classmates.
“You guys have changed my life irrevocably,” she said. “And we as a class have a lot of potential to change the lives of others for the better.”
Of all the lessons Yadav learned at USC, perhaps that is the most important.
“At the end of the day, Viterbi taught me that engineering is a mindset more than it is a career. At heart, we’re problem solvers,” she said. “We’re graduating as engineers, but also as people who are trying to leave this world a better place than we found it. And that’s what these four years have prepared us for.”
Dean Yortsos ended his address by telling the graduates to trust their instincts and know that their alma mater would always be there for them.
“And so, as you leave today with our blessing, that of your parents and friends, and with the official Viterbi School seal of approval, this is my wish for you: Follow your heart and your intuition, and you will 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,” Yortsos added.
Published on May 13th, 2023
Last updated on May 15th, 2023