USC recently hosted the fourth annual First Generation Summit, bringing together 350 first-generation USC students and their mentors, as well as students from other local colleges and universities. I had the privilege of sharing my own story: my parents believed in education, even though neither of them went to college and my father didn’t finish high school. In my remarks, I told these students about two teachers who encouraged me, and how two brief encounters with these teachers changed my life forever. I could see these students’ faces light up, and I could see they recognized elements of their own stories in mine.
USC has nearly 3,600 first-generation undergraduate students, and more than 7,300 at the graduate level. With them, we are changing lives. For many, we are opening up entirely new futures, building generations of lives rooted firmly in education, knowledge, and leadership. This is truly noble work, and I wish to share the story of one such student: Jacqueline Martinez. Jackie is a USC Mork Family Scholar, a distinction that goes to only 10 high achieving students each year. Her story is special for many reasons—notably the support and love of her parents—but also because she inspires one of her own mentors, USC graduate student Samantha Levra. “She makes me want to be a better student,” Samantha said. “If Jackie Martinez is on campus, I need to be working really hard, too.”
In addition to first-generation students, I want to highlight those students who are pursuing degrees later in life. There are currently more than 2,500 undergraduate and graduate students at USC who are 40 years of age or older. One of these students is Margarita Lopez, who drew encouragement from the memory of her late daughter, Milanca, who was tragically killed just six days after graduating from U.C. Berkeley. “I hope she’s proud,” Margarita said, “and I know she’s looking down at us.” In a very powerful way, Margarita’s story counters the notions that people her age do not need higher education, that they should only be focused on exiting the workforce, and that they should not pursue new careers and new dreams later in life. There is considerable work being done at USC—particularly at our Davis School of Gerontology—that combats these ideas and squarely takes on ageism.
Cardinal, gold, and green
While USC is working hard to create an environment in which first-generation and older students thrive, we also are working hard to create an environment that minimizes our collective carbon footprint. The individual who oversees our Office of Sustainability, Ellen Dux, recently spoke with USC News, and provided clear answers about our work in this area. Among many topics, she described our forward-thinking recycling efforts, our ambitious plans to use reclaimed water, and our initiatives to serve food from sustainable sources. Many in our community, she points out, are surprised to learn that the USC Village—which seems to reach back centuries in the appearance of its architecture—provides a remarkably green living environment.
Coliseum renovations press forward
While we champion green initiatives on our campuses, we also champion rapid renovations and refurbishments at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which is on schedule for completion by this August. A team of 500 workers is working almost around the clock, six days a week to complete the upgrades, which the entire Los Angeles community will enjoy. Every single seat will be replaced, while Wi-Fi will be updated, lighting will be revamped, and plumbing will be improved. A host of other changes will produce an outstanding facility in which we can cheer on the Trojans—and welcome athletes for the 2028 Summer Olympics. The Los Angeles Daily News recently ran an excellent story on this restoration, and I share it with you here.
Trojan siblings spur each other to success
I would like to close with a touching story about two Trojan siblings: Shalexxus and Shaqquan Aaron. They both play basketball, live in the same apartment, and critique each other’s playing on the court. They bring a special sensitivity to their criticism: “If I know Shaqquan is super heated or frustrated,” said Shalexxus, “I know how to approach him with the right tone or to not talk about a certain part of the game.” Their feel-good story reminds us that there are many great examples of tight bonds within our Trojan Family, and of the nurturing strength our students draw from each other.
In this spirit, Wade and I hope you are staying warm and dry in these winter months. We look forward to a green spring. Fight On!