New Student Convocation: Fall 2022

August 18, 2022

Good morning, students, parents, faculty, staff, platform party and friends – Welcome to the 2022 Convocation at the University of Southern California.

To our nearly 13,000 new undergraduate and graduate Trojans – Congratulations! You’re a glorious sight on a glorious Southern California morning.

Take a breath – absorb all this, so you can remember and be inspired by it.

Think next, of the people you hold in your hearts, who supported you on your way here, and be deeply, deeply, grateful.

And let’s not forget to thank the people who have worked hard, to make our campuses beautiful and help you on your orientation and move-in.

Now, look around at your talented, passionate new classmates from 49 states and 82 countries. They will be taking this next big journey with you.

The next time you’ll all be together like this will be at your graduation!

I like your ‘fit’ today – decked out in your academic gowns, even on a day as hot as today!

We dress this way to emphasize the importance and dignity of the occasion.

To our new undergraduate and master’s students, you’re very chic in your basic black – and our Ph.D. candidates in cardinal; befitting the noble profession of ‘student’ that you are accepting today.

What we’re all wearing today of course, are not merely costumes.

As one of USC’s former University Faculty Marshals, Professor G.A. Fleischer once said, our gowns represent “an ancient custom…linking each of us in an unbroken chain…uniting students and scholars since the Middle Ages.”

Even in these very different times, we remain linked to our past through our humanity, and the legacy of curiosity and a quest for answers, that’s been passed down through the ages, connecting you to them, today.

Convocation is joyful celebration, but it’s serious too. It’s the official start of your academic journey here. This is an immense privilege that carries with it great responsibility.

As an official member of our community, you are committing, to uphold the principled citizenship we expect – acting with integrity, treating others with respect, and being a responsible neighbor where you live, study, and work.

I know, we all know – you’re up to the task.

You’ve worked hard to earn your place at one of the world’s greatest universities.

You’re joining a dynamic network of determined Trojans, who share your dreams of creating new things, perfecting skills, boldly advancing knowledge, and taking on pressing societal challenges.

Universities are crucibles for all this – living laboratories where great ideas turn into powerful breakthroughs and life-changing advances.

A constant collision of big ideas and fresh minds creates a kinetic buzz of energy you feel every time you walk across our campuses. I thought about our grand purpose when I saw the first spectacular photos from the Webb Space Telescope a few weeks ago. I hope you saw them too. They show light emitted 13 billion years ago at the formation of the universe. We saw images of the Cartwheel Galaxy – about 500 million light years from Earth – a swirl of new stars and dusty debris formed by a collision of two galaxies. Just think about it – every single image we saw was built on discoveries made by generations of people at universities around the world, including ours. And these folks started out just like you, with dreams that make the saying, “the sky’s the limit,” feel a bit small.

These astonishing images – and what they mean for future discoveries – delight both the child and the scientist in me.

Before I put on this Presidential Medallion, I wore something much lighter but equally important – a lab coat.

The thrill of a new discovery is as exciting for me today as it was when I was doing my own undergraduate work.

As a student, I pretty much wanted to try everything. I jumped around, studying and leaving, many different things (Sorry, parents…) – until I found my passion for the natural world.

On an impulse, I made a choice that changed my life. I joined some friends on a small boat in Morro Bay, on the California Central Coast, during a massive bloom of single-celled algae, called dinoflagellates.

These algae are bioluminescent – meaning they can produce and emit light – and when present in the billions, they can light up an entire body of water.

More than 180 years ago, Charles Darwin described this same phenomenon as, “a wonderful and most beautiful spectacle, when the surface, glowed with a pale light. The crest of every wave was bright, and the sky glowed from the reflected glare of these livid flames.”

In our boat, every oar stroke created a lightning bolt shooting off in the wake; as we dangled our hands in the water, we created a sparkling trail, almost like a physical expression of chimes in the breeze.

From that moment, I fell in love with lakes, rivers, and oceans, awed by the diversity of life they hold, and determined to spend my life studying and protecting them.

And this love drives me still.

Along the way, I’ve learned an essential truth about the interconnectedness of all living things; nothing happens in isolation, in the ocean, in a classroom, on the playing field, in a country, or across our planet.

As I pursued my passion, I found joy in the world of experimentation and discovery, by teaching and now, by leading a university.

I want that joy for you too.

You usually don’t know when an “a-ha” moment will come to you, but it will, just not necessarily when you are expecting it.

Today, I am so excited for you, and I know our faculty and staff are too.

USC is a fantastic learning sandbox – a wonderful place to push yourself, have fun, make a difference, and form lifelong friendships.

Dreams you expressed in your applications – to protect our planet, make your mark, build a just society, win, create, discover, help others, start new industries, and more – will evolve as you learn here, together.

And I really do mean – together. 

Research confirms that we learn best from each other, that we’re social learners and most creative when we try new things, including art, new dance steps, and even new foods.

We even learn from our surroundings without trying (although I don’t recommend that during finals).

Being at USC is a learner’s dream. You’ll study with brilliant game-changers and debate conflicting perspectives with lots of smart people.

Some of you will build businesses; voice the news; create amazing art, film, and music; care for and heal others; and influence government policy.

You’ll delight in each other’s cultures, and I guarantee you’ll be spurred on by the excellence of your friends. 

Many of you will serve in our local communities or across the country and the world.

Service is a big part of who we are at USC – it’s embedded in our DNA, including our mission statement.

For 142 years, we have been committed to the public good. 

And I promise, not only will you find your passion and your truth, what you see as being possible right now will pale in comparison to what you’ll see in four years.

Now, I’d like to tell you a little bit about our new students.

You’re an exceptional group by many measures – academic stars, diverse backgrounds,

and fascinating life experiences.

Nearly a quarter of you are first generation college-goers.

Roughly a third of you are transfer students – something that’s important to me as a former transfer student myself.

Close to 400 of you are military veterans.

And don’t worry if you start seeing double – you are. Fifty of you are sets of twins and another six are triplets!

Finally, as university presidents like to do, I’ll offer three small pieces of advice.

First, I was going to say, don’t waste your time while you’re here.

But I’ve changed my mind (Parents, don’t worry) – Instead, I say, do “waste” some time!

Waste is probably not the right word, but I know you’re all high achievers and you know how to work hard and get involved.

What I want you to remember is that it is critical to relax hard too. Spend time with friends, curl up with a good show (preferably one written, produced, and starring a USC graduate), and find time for quiet reflection.

Dyanna Boone, a rising sophomore, told me that she stops the speeding train that it can feel like here, by taking it slowly and savoring the small moments each day.

Second, build community – people who are there for you, who make you laugh till you cry, and aren’t afraid to say when they disagree with you.

And take care them – think of this place as a family. Who better than you to help each other avoid unhealthy, crazy choices, and strive for excellence?

I especially urge you to include people who are not just like you, who have different backgrounds and hold different views, in your community.

Living and learning in our diverse community could be the most important skill you learn because you surely will be required to work in diverse teams throughout your life.

And finally, cultivate something called “a beginner’s mind.” Make a post-it for your computer that says, “Fresh start every day.”

A beginner’s mind is open and unbiased – it’s fresh, ready to make new connections, and to see possibility in the unknown.

With a beginner’s mind, there’s truly no limit to where you can go – in your studies, your career, your travels – maybe even into the galaxies unfolding before our eyes!

And with that in mind, for the first time, I’d like to officially welcome you to USC with a Fight On!

[Following the other speakers, President Folt returned to close the event.]

New Trojans, your newest adventure is about to begin.

I want you to start each day by asking, “Where will my beginner’s mind take me?”

This morning you took your first steps on the path of a grand tradition stretching across centuries, and now, you’re officially a member of the Trojan Family that numbers more than 450,000 people across the world.

You’re also probably ready to shed your voluminous, dark gowns.

Seriously though, this is what I want you to remember: Generations of past Trojans have sat in these seats. Like you, they were probably a bit nervous and uncertain.

They went on to find their path and to make contributions in so many fields.

They’ve made an enormous difference in the world around us, in the land below and the skies above, and in their communities on every continent – and you’ll do the same.

Your success and character are now intertwined with all of ours. We celebrate you and welcome you.

Like those incredible images of the universe prove, there is a greater, richer, and bigger world out there for us to uncover. And for you, new Trojans, not just to discover, but to build and improve for all of us.

One thing I really hope you’ll do is to join in our fight for sustainability – what our students have called Assignment: Earth – and do your part (including not using disposable water bottles) to help us move faster every year toward our green goals.

I believe each of you can leave USC an even better place than it is today, and I simply can’t wait to see how you do it!

So finally, before we go, let’s say again, thank you to the people who helped lift you and set you on this exciting new path ahead – your supporters, mentors, parents, friends, teachers, and many others.

We’ll end our ceremony with our Alma Mater, led by Evan Llafet, a senior at the Thornton School of Music. He’ll be accompanied by our fabulous Trojan Marching Band. Everyone, please stand and sing along! And together, one more time, Fight On!