USC 2024 commencement: USC Thornton graduates

USC Thornton School of Music graduates celebrate the moment. (USC Photo/David Sprague)


Graduates, families and friends enjoy a day of Trojan traditions and milestone moments

Trojan parents and loved ones come from near and far to share commencement ceremonies with the Class of 2024.

May 10, 2024 By Greg Hernandez

Juggling bouquets of flowers, cameras and cups of coffee, hundreds of Trojan families gathered at Hahn Plaza during Friday morning’s commencement festivities to watch the Trojan Marching Band perform a series of energetic numbers, culminating with the USC fight song. The university’s traditional release of white doves served as a backdrop to the celebratory scene.

“The pageantry is great,” said Rafael Leonard, who traveled from Texas to see his daughter, Trinity Leonard, receive her master’s degree from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. “It’s very exciting just to be here today with the beautiful weather and to see everyone in their cap and gown.”

USC 2024 commencement: Band and doves
It wouldn’t be a USC commencement without the Trojan Marching Band or the release of the doves. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Following the kickoff festivities, 30 ceremonies took place throughout the day at various indoor and outdoor locations on USC’s University Park Campus as well as the nearby Galen Center, Shrine Auditorium and Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Wise words from an icon

Among the day’s highest-profile speakers was tennis legend Billie Jean King, who delivered the keynote address to more than 1,200 USC Annenberg graduates inside a giant tent erected on McCarthy Quad.

“We better have fun today!” King said to loud cheers. “You made it, and we are here together.”

USC 2024 commencement: Billie Jean King and Willow Bay
Billie Jean King, center, and USC Annenberg Dean Willow Bay, right, attend the communication and journalism school commencement ceremony. (USC Photo/David Sprague)

King, the first female athlete in history to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, urged graduates to be curious and nimble, to take advantage of opportunities, and to never lose sight of their dreams. Most importantly, she urged the students to be true to themselves.

“Be authentic and don’t let others define you,” King said. “You define yourself.”

The audience clapped frequently during King’s address, culminating with a prolonged standing ovation when she concluded. Before leaving the stage, the icon grabbed a tennis racket and began hitting tennis balls into the audience.

‘You’re not your job’

The largest of USC’s academic divisions, the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, split its graduation festivities into two separate ceremonies — one in the morning and another in the afternoon — to accommodate the large number of graduates. Each ceremony took place under a large tent on Allyson Felix Field, where students and families posed for photos beneath the scoreboard and on the track. Some groups chose to get a bird’s-eye view of the festivities from the bleachers, while others shared snacks and drinks at picnic tables set up on the artificial turf.

USC 2024 commencement: USC Dornsife grads prepare for procession
USC Dornsife graduates prepare for their procession. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Speaker Jane Coaston — an opinion writer at The New York Times, on-air contributor for CNN’s Chris Wallace Show and recent fellow at the USC Dornsife Center for the Political Future — inspired students by putting herself in their shoes. She shared how when she sat at her graduation from the University of Michigan 15 years ago, she felt terrified, unsure of her path forward and uncertain if she was prepared to handle life outside of school.

Offering reassurance to students with similar fears, Coaston said to applause, “You have time to grow into the person you hope you will be tomorrow.”

But even as she affirmed that the graduates would find their career niches in due time, the accomplished journalist urged them not to measure their success solely by professional accomplishments.

“You are not your job,” Coaston said, drawing cheers from the crowd. “You are way bigger and more important than what you wind up doing, even if your career happens to be your life’s greatest passion.”

Families bond during pre-ceremony moments

Before heading to Allyson Felix Field for her USC Dornsife ceremony, Yodahit Philipos was in Hahn Plaza surrounded by 16 members of her family — including parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts and cousins, many of whom had traveled from the family’s home state of Minnesota for the occasion.

“It’s all pretty crazy and surreal,” Philipos said. “I didn’t get to have a high school graduation because of the COVID-19 lockdown, so I had to have everyone come out for my college graduation.”

USC 2024 commencement: Philipos family
Family members came from as far as Minnesota to support Yodahit Philipos. (USC Photo/Greg Hernandez)

Philipos served as manager of the Cardinal Divas of SC majorette dance team, which made graduation day “bittersweet.”

“I feel like these have been some of my best years,” she said. “I feel like I met most of my lifelong friends here in college.”

Her father, Philipos Getachew, was beaming with pride over his daughter’s accomplishments. “We sent a young girl to USC, and she’s coming out a woman,” he said. “It’s been an amazing, amazing experience.”

Before receiving her bachelor’s degree in theater, USC School of Dramatic Arts student Emiko Ohta waited with her parents to have a photo taken in front of Tommy Trojan. Ohta completed her degree in three years and has already lined up a job with a production company.

“I’m graduating early, and that’s a level of accomplishment, but I also have a little bit of grief for leaving the school,” said Ohta, who will also be pursuing acting jobs post-graduation. “I’m a sucker for school spirit, and I feel like USC is really a big proponent of that. I know nothing about football, but I love a football game at USC.”

USC 2024 commencement: Willow and Paula Ransom
Mom Paula Ransom said that watching her daughter Willow graduate made for “one of the best days of my life.” (USC Photo/Greg Hernandez)

‘One of the best days of my life’

USC Annenberg graduate Willow Ransom took a pause from posing for photos with her mom and younger sister near Tommy Trojan to reflect on her time in school.

“I feel like the connections that I’ve made and the connections with my professors are unlike anything else that I’ve ever had before,” Ransom said. “I feel like even though I’m finishing school, truly I’m a Trojan for life.”

For her mother, Paula Ransom, Friday was “one of the best days of my life.”

“I’m so excited and proud,” she said. “I love USC, and I’m one of those moms that has ‘USC Mom’ on everything.”

USC 2024 commencement: Kaiser Kurexi and parents
“I did it for them,” new graduate Kaiser Kurexi said of his proud parents. (USC Photo/Greg Hernandez)

‘I did it for them’

USC Dornsife graduate Kaiser Kurexi, who earned a bachelor’s degree in human biology and is headed to medical school, got choked up when explaining the reason he had the words “For Apa & Dada” on his sash under his magna cum laude distinction.

“I did it for them,” Kurexi said of his parents, who stood next to him. “They motivated me, they are the reason I did all this.”

Before the school ceremonies began, Grace Shan and her family shared laughs as they stood in line to have their photos taken next to the Traveler statue. Shan has earned a bachelor’s degree from USC Dornsife and a master’s degree from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, but still found time for fun.

USC 2024 commencement: Shan family
Grace Shan pauses for a moment with her parents. (USC Photo/Greg Hernandez)

“You experience all of the school pride with everyone really excited to go to the football games, and you see alumni coming in from all over, which is really cool,” she said.

Her father, Bing Shan, wore a USC sweatshirt to commencement and feels almost as much school pride as his daughter.

“I’m so proud of her and how much she’s grown up during the four years,” he said.

Trojan love story

Kyle Brooks and Tierney Anderson, graduating with master’s degrees on Friday, wanted to get one last photo with Tommy Trojan during their final day on campus as students. Both had done their undergraduate work at Pepperdine University at the same time, but somehow never crossed paths. But when they met at USC as they began work on graduate degrees, Brooks didn’t waste any time.

“He requested to follow me on Instagram during my very first class at USC,” Anderson said. The couple began dating soon after that. “And now, the rest is history, and we’re graduating together,” she added.

USC 2024 commencement: Tierney Anderson and Kyle Brooks
Tierney Anderson and Kyle Brooks were undergrads at Pepperdine at the same time, but didn’t meet until they both started graduate programs at USC. (USC Photo/Greg Hernandez)

Brooks earned his master’s degree in data science from USC Viterbi, while Anderson’s master’s degree is in communications management from USC Annenberg.

Looking beyond yourself

Elsewhere on campus, the Ronald Tutor Campus Center ballroom rang with cheers as families celebrated the 100-plus graduates of the USC Roski School of Art and Design with leis, signs, photos and well-wishes.

In her keynote address, renowned artist and former USC Roski School Dean Ruth Weisberg lauded the newly minted alumni’s hard work. But it was Master of Fine Arts speaker Eva Aguila’s speech that challenged the graduates to look beyond themselves.

“[Artists are] the voices and the motions of not only ourselves, but everyone around us,” Aguila said. “We are the storytellers of our cultural experience, but it can’t always be done alone. As you walk out of here today, the main thing that will be left is your community: It will uplift you, sustain you and help you keep going. Remember not to overlook or take your community for granted.”

During the USC Viterbi ceremony, a graduate brought a glowing toy lightsaber onto the stage — one that was quickly taken up by Dean Yannis Yortsos, who waved it in the air to the amusement of the crowd.

And at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, a graduate’s mortar board decoration summed up the day’s events: “It’s a wrap.”

USC’s Lilledeshan Bose and Rachel B. Levin contributed to this report.

USC 2024 commencement: family and graduate with Traveler
A graduate and proud family pose with Traveler. (USC Photo/David Sprague)