USC alumnus Will Ferrell inspires graduates; Trustee Wallis Annenberg receives University Medallion; USC’s NAI praised by The New York Times

May 31, 2017

I would like to begin this month’s letter by offering my heartfelt congratulations to USC’s newest class of graduates and their families. This year, the university awarded more than 15,000 degrees to extraordinarily talented individuals from all 50 states and more than 100 different nations. The scope of their achievements inspires us all, and we wish them continued success as they move forward. Our commencement speaker, actor Will Ferrell, drew international attention and an enthusiastic response from our graduates and families for his magnificently light-hearted speech. Next month, I will share stories and photos from the ceremonies. In the meantime, to our newly minted graduates, Niki and I say: Fight On!

In this spirit, I also want to share the exceptional article that appeared in The New York Times praising USC’s renowned Neighborhood Academic Initiative. In it, writer Frank Bruni reflected on the longstanding success of our flagship NAI program, particularly in working alongside our local communities. His piece also praised USC’s efforts to reach underrepresented students through our innovative charter school partnerships. Mr. Bruni’s piece was a wonderful validation of our collective efforts to increase access to education, and I hope you will share it with others.

Wallis Annenberg honored
At last month’s Academic Honors Convocation, Wallis Annenberg—USC’s longest serving trustee—received the rarely awarded University Medallion. She is only the fourth person in USC’s history to receive this prestigious honor; the first was her father, Walter H. Annenberg. In 2010, Wallis Annenberg provided a historic naming gift for Wallis Annenberg Hall, which stands at the heart of our University Park Campus, and she has been a stellar trustee, benefactor, and ambassador for the university for more than four decades. In accepting the award, Wallis surprised the audience by announcing a $10 million gift to the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, while celebrating the appointment of Willow Bay as the school’s new dean. Wallis’ generosity drew loud cheers and spontaneous applause, and we were all so pleased to see her receive a well-deserved, sustained standing ovation!

Last month, I led a delegation of USC trustees, deans, and senior administrators to Washington, D.C., where we met with a range of distinguished government officials, including Senator Kamala Harris; Senator Tim Kaine; Rep. Karen Bass; Rep. Michael McCaul; and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard. Our discussions covered pressing issues affecting higher education. During our visit, we also hosted a special event at which we released our new report on college access entitled “Addressing Access and Success: A USC Blueprint for Expanding the College Pipeline.” I enjoyed a lively discussion on college access with Politico’s co-founder and editor-in-chief, John Harris.

Festival of Books
In late April, USC hosted the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books for the seventh straight year! It was a beautiful weekend with appearances by Margaret Atwood, Bryan Cranston, Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters fame, Cheech Marin, and Joyce Carol Oates, as well as a number of USC’s own literary stars, including T. C. Boyle and Viet Thanh Nguyen. This event is always a special highlight for our USC community—as well as for our local neighbors, as it’s wonderful to have our nation’s largest literary festival come to our own backyard. On a related note, we were so proud to learn that Robin Coste Lewis—a doctoral student in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, and a past winner of the National Book Award for Poetry—was recently named Poet Laureate of the City of Los Angeles. What an extraordinary recognition for her!

USC classics students
Students in USC Dornsife’s classics department were invited to compete in the inaugural Classics Olympia, defeating students from UCLA and California State University, Long Beach. USC students emerged victorious in all four categories: Greek translation, Latin translation, trivia, and debate. Many of these students cite the intimacy of the classics department as an enormous help in building their knowledge and skills; with 22 majors, 15 minors, and 21 doctoral candidates in the program, most of the students know each other.

Women’s beach volleyball
The USC women’s beach volleyball team won the 2017 NCAA title in a thrilling tournament final against Pepperdine University. The entire squad demonstrated such tenacity, talent, and spirit in earning its third consecutive national championship. This is USC’s 104th all-time NCAA team championship, and the university’s 20th women’s NCAA title. The entire Trojan Family warmly applauds these remarkable student-athletes and their coaches, led by Anna Collier, on this outstanding accomplishment!

Niki and I wish you an excellent start to your summer. With best regards,

Yours truly,

C. L. Max Nikias