Virtual Conferring of Degrees: Class of 2020

May 15, 2020

Good morning, and welcome to University of Southern California’s virtual conferring of degrees for the Class of 2020! And welcome to all the Trojans and families around the world joining us as well.

This is a ceremony for the record books.

And you’re lucky: you’ll get a second ceremony – I promise – in person!

Like all of you, I imagined we’d be under a blue sky this morning, strolling the well-traveled paths across campus. We’d line up with friends and colleagues, for a joyful walk to Doheny.

You might remember your first day at Convocation there – you probably weren’t dreaming of today but simply hoping to make through your first week of classes. 

The picture today is quite different. But the important thing is, whether in person or virtually, we’re coming together to celebrate.

And wherever you are, in your fine academic robes or your most casual sweats, you’re just minutes away from completing that journey.

So, let’s get started.

First, I want to congratulate all of our over 19,000 soon-to-be graduates.

We honor your achievements – and this is your day. But let’s take a moment to thank and remember the many special people in your life – parents, faculty, staff, coaches, mentors, incredibly generous alumni, and friends, all who’ve been such a cherished part of your journey and may have sacrificed so you could be here.

This is their day too, and we thank them.

I feel a special kinship with you because you’re my first class of graduates as president of USC.

Much of what I’ve come to love about our university, about the Trojan spirit and Trojan Family, comes from my experiences with you.

Especially in these recent difficult times, I’ve watched in awe as you faced disappointment and hardship and kept going; I’ve marveled at your sense of purpose and positive outlook; and I’ve been moved by your expressions of gratitude and offers to help.

Your generosity of spirit is the most remarkable thing of all.

As a class, you’ve built a powerful identity too – you have strong voices and skills; you’re creative, fun; you care about people, seek fairness for others; and you will not be stopped from pushing boundaries and seeking solutions.

Everyone who has worked with you knows you’ll use the skills and experiences you’ve gained at USC to create art and culture, rethink many of the very disciplines you’ve just finished studying, start companies in fields that don’t exist today, and design and build more just and sustainable communities.

And in doing this, you’ll extend USC’s impact from Doheny to the edge of the world.

Class of 2020, you couldn’t have predicted where your journey of discovery at USC would take you.

And over your time here, you’ve shared with each other moments of great joy and sadness, pride and disappointment, inspiration and success. And of course, COVID-19.

None of these moments by themselves define you or your experience here at USC; together, they paint a beautiful picture of achievement, passion, shared values, and purpose.

You’re a remarkable group of individuals with an extraordinary education. And you’re living in a remarkable time when extraordinary things are both needed and possible.

Your moment has arrived, and you are up to the task.

I think of you as Generation C-squared – a generation of collaborators and connectors, exactly the skills we need for the future.

You build bridges, not walls. You say “we” and “us” more than “I” and “me.” You fearlessly bring together diverse ideas, backgrounds, and perspectives, and you do it in fresh and exciting ways.

Your USC experiences have given you extraordinary advantages.

You’ve lived in the center of one of the world’s most vibrant, diverse, and challenging megacities. You’ve taken top-level classes and had outstanding opportunities here and abroad. You’ve worked with – and maybe even helped create – the latest technologies, studied with global experts, and been challenged by your classmates and faculty to dream bigger and bolder than you ever imagined possible.

And you do dream big. One of our graduates, Saweetie Harper, a talented rapper and singer, participated two days ago in a performance for our seniors. And she said when she arrived as a transfer student on campus for the first time, she could “smell ambition in the air.”

Now is the time to take all that to the world.

My charge to the class of 2020 is simple. Trust yourselves. Remain true to your hearts and your values.

Do that, and as proud Trojan members of Generation C-squared, you will be part of the growing connective, collaborative force that is propelling change in the world.

I’m confident you will lead that transformation because I’ve seen you in action all year. And I’ve seen you shine in the face of the pandemic.

It is not easy right now – many people are suffering – but you’ve stepped up to deal with upended plans and deferred dreams.

You’ve volunteered at food banks, helped at hospitals and clinics, spent hours on COVID-19 research, and boxed PPE for medical-workers.

You’ve worked over zoom to keep your student organizations going strong. You’ve created art and performances online that are incredible. And you’ve shared compelling ideas about how we can make things better for students yet to come.

Finally, I know many of you are concerned about your future in the face of so much uncertainty this year.

You’re probably asking, even with this superb education from USC, “Will I make it?” You will – and you won’t just survive. You’ll thrive.

Your ability to collaborate, connect and get things done – even during a pandemic – is truly extraordinary. And it makes me so hopeful, not only about your individual futures, but about our collective future as well.

One of the things we all love about California is the sound of waves perpetually pounding on the beach.

They have such power, especially when the weather grows stormy and unpredictable.

We know the vast energy in a wave can smash and destroy, but it also carries incredible positive potential.

It may feel right now like you’re being tossed in the churn, but it is possible to ride the wave, to use that energy to propel you forward, to race with the wind.

All of you are well-equipped to harness the churn we’re experiencing now and to channel that powerful energy into making connections that will open new vistas and illuminate new pathways.

You have the tools, the smarts, the grit, the passion, the vision to ride – indeed, to guide – the waves of change ahead and to prevail.

One of your fellow students wrote to me recently that this is, above all, a time for us to create, to build communities and families, to make art and music, start businesses, and lead scientific breakthroughs.

When we create together, we defy darkness. And when we connect with each other, we make great things – amazing things – possible.

So now, I’d like to introduce our graduating class. 

Today, we’re conferring a total of 19,832 degrees.

This number includes:

  • 5,590 undergraduates;
  • 1,062 doctoral degrees;
  • 10,558 master’s degrees;
  • 926 professional degrees;
  • 1,696 certificates are being awarded;
  • We have 679 veterans celebrating with us;
  • 1,807 transfer students;
  • and 4,764 first-generation students!

Congratulations to you all.

I, for one, can’t wait to see the amazing things this Class of 2020 will achieve.

[Following the conferral of degrees, President Folt returned to deliver closing remarks.]

Congratulations, graduates – you’re officially USC alumni!

I know you’ll join generations of your fellow Trojans, who have used their knowledge and their talents to make the world a better place. Wherever you go in life, please know that your Trojan Family will be there to support you.

We’ve come to the conclusion of our event.

I want to thank everyone – hundreds of people in all the schools – who wanted to create a special, one-of-a-kind celebration for our students, especially our wonderful Events staff.

And a special shout-out to Dr. [Art] Bartner and the Trojan Marching Band: Our entire community loves your energy and spirit; it wouldn’t be the same without you!

And finally, thank you to our graduates and their families and to everyone joining us today on every continent around the world. It was a pleasure to celebrate this moment together.

But we’re not done celebrating yet!