USC 2024 commencement: Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy students

Students from USC’s Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy share the excitement. (USC Photo/Caleb Griffin)


Graduates and families capture moments in time during commencement week

COMMENCEMENT: USC’s University Park Campus was buzzing with excitement, anticipation and Tommy Trojan sightings on Thursday. The festivities continue through Saturday.

May 09, 2024 By Rachel B. Levin and Greg Hernandez

On Thursday morning, as the May Gray gave way to sunshine, the USC University Park campus was abuzz with commencement energy. Planters filled with bright marigolds and red salvia flowers added a splash of Trojan colors to every landscaped nook.

Graduates in their red sashes fanned out to favorite photo spots, including the statue of Traveler in Hahn Central Plaza and the main entrance of Doheny Memorial Library. In front of Bovard Administration Building, a cardinal and gold balloon arch and large, flower-filled white letters spelling out “USC GRAD” served as backdrops for solo and group shots and selfies. Outside the bookstore, students from the USC Commencement Group sold fresh floral leis, teddy bears and bouquets of flowers that made for popular photo props.

RELATED: What you need to know if you’ll be attending USC’s 2024 commencement celebrations

The costumed Tommy Trojan, along with USC Spirit Leaders and USC Song Leaders, made for a festive sight just outside Bovard Auditorium, as they greeted those arriving for the Student Recognition Awards Ceremony. At the event, USC Student Life celebrated the achievements of graduating students whose non-academic contributions have significantly enriched the quality of life at USC.

USC 2024 commencement: Photos with Tommy
Tommy stands ready at a photo staging site. (USC Photo/Caleb Griffin)

Samantha Wu, who will be receiving her bachelor’s degree from the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, was in a reflective mood as she stood outside Bovard waiting for the ceremony to begin. She has earned Renaissance Scholar distinction, which comes with $10,000 toward her graduate studies at the USC Rossier School of Education.

“My years on campus have been really good,” Wu said. “They have helped me come into my own, to be independent, meet new people and explore different views. I think USC is a really good place to find your people, find what you believe in and what you value.”

A few feet away was graduate student Jorge Hernandez, who happily posed with his mother and two nieces in front of a USC alumni photo backdrop set up outside Bovard. Hernandez returned to school in his late 30s to earn a master’s degree in human resource management from USC’s Bovard College.

USC 2024 commencement: Traveler and the giant screen
Traveler guards the big screen in Hahn Plaza. (USC Photo/Caleb Griffin)

“I’m finishing a chapter, and this is the start of my being a USC alumnus,” he said. “I am the youngest of four children and the only one to pursue higher education, so having my family here experiencing this with me is a very special experience.”

Tommy Trojan photo ops

Nearby, at Tommy Trojan, the USC Cycling club posed for its annual photo shoot. Clemens Pilgram, who will receive his doctoral degree in urban planning Friday from the USC Price School of Public Policy, was among the graduating members of the club sporting cycling jerseys and bike shorts designed by the team, along with their graduation sashes.

“I wanted to bike to our team photoshoot in my full doctoral hood but feared I’d get tire marks on it,” Pilgram said.

Brendan Kim and Sam Adams, both graduating with bachelor’s degrees from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, also gathered at Tommy Trojan to re-create a special photo they took four years ago.

“We started in fall of 2020 when campus was closed, but we managed to get a picture in front of Tommy Trojan and were wearing our masks,” Kim said. “So, we’re here to re-create that picture four years later — without the masks.”

USC 2024 commencement: Sam Adams and Brendan Kim four years ago, and today
Sam Adams and Brendan Kim four years ago (left) and today. (Photos/Courtesy of Sam Adams and Brandon Kim; USC Photo by Caleb Griffin)

They found an on-campus apartment together their freshman year after connecting online through a new student forum and have now been roommates for four years.

“It feels like it was only like a second ago,” Adams said. “I can’t believe it’s been four years now.”

All across campus, thousands of white folding chairs served as a backdrop under giant tents, poised for Friday’s ceremonies for individual schools. Faculty tested microphones and led tech rehearsals for the scheduled speakers while crews set up tables, umbrellas and sun sails in cardinal and gold for forthcoming receptions.

Capturing memories

Doheny Memorial Library rivaled Tommy Trojan and Traveler as the most popular pre-commencement photo backdrop. This is where 10 students from the USC Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy staged an elaborate photo session: The women all wore white dresses under their red graduation robes and fellow graduating student Nathan Wakamoto gave specific instructions from behind his camera.

USC 2024 commencement: Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy students
Students from USC’s Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy celebrate outside Doheny Memorial Library. (USC Photo/Caleb Griffin)

“Everyone take a stair, own a stair,” he said as he arranged a group shot on the steps. “And when you throw up your hats, don’t smile.”

Wakamoto has been photographing weddings and other events as a “side hustle,” so spearheading this photo session came naturally.

“It’s fun to be able to capture memories of these guys one more time before we all split up a bit,” he said.

The close-knit group is graduating with Doctor of Physical Therapy degrees after spending three years working closely together.

“We’ve all taken trips together, we study together, we practice on each other,” group member Emily Cowan said. “We’ve definitely become our own little family within the cohort.”

Preceding the group on the library steps were four military veterans who are receiving their degrees on Friday.

“I’m super excited,” said U.S. Navy veteran Mitchell Adams, who is graduating from the USC Marshall School of Business. “I never thought this day would come, and it still hasn’t really hit me yet.”

USC 2024 commencement: Veterans Ryan Anderson, Mitch Adams, Noah Aloush and Alexis Bresino
Veterans Ryan Anderson, Mitch Adams, Noah Aloush and Alexis Bresino, from left, pose for a photo outside of Doheny Memorial Library. (USC Photo/Caleb Griffin)

Kelly Lui traveled from Columbus, Ohio, this week to watch her daughter graduate.

“I’m really proud of her and what she has accomplished,” Lui said as she watched her daughter, Carolyn Zhang, pose for photos in front of the library with two friends and fellow graduates. “She’s the first in our family to receive a college degree in this country.” Zhang’s parents earned their degrees in China, their country of origin.

Zhang, who is receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science from USC Viterbi, is savoring each moment of graduation week.

“I’m just really grateful that we can all be here and celebrate,” she said. “It’s actually my mom’s birthday tomorrow so I hope this is like the best birthday gift I can give to her: two degrees.”

Coming to campus at last

The festive mood spilled into USC Village, where O’Shane Elliott — who on Wednesday received his Doctor of Education degree from USC Rossier — posed for photos in his cap and gown in front of the statue of Hecuba, queen of Troy.

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Elliott earned his degree online; this was his first time coming to the USC University Park Campus. He, his wife, Dorie Cross, and his mother, Donett James, traveled from Houston for the commencement festivities.

“Being on campus and engaging with a lot of my peers, folks who are graduating and their families just demonstrates a culture of inclusion,” said Elliott, who is the first in his family to graduate college and to receive a doctorate. “It was a view of USC I wasn’t [previously] able to have because I wasn’t [studying] in person.”