Gen. Paul Naksone on campus tour

Gen. Paul Nakasone, second from left, tours the Nisei rock garden accompanied by Glenn Osaki, senior advisor in the USC president’s office (far left), and Grace Shiba (to Nakasone’s left), executive director of USC’s Asian Pacific Alumni Association. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)


Q&A with Gen. Paul Nakasone, National Security Agency director and USC alumnus

The nation’s top military cyber official on Thursday toured some of his old stomping grounds during a visit with students, faculty and leadership.

December 04, 2023 By Nina Raffio

Years have passed since Gen. Paul Nakasone last walked the halls of USC, but time has not diminished his connection to the place that helped nurture his aspirations for a lifelong career in public service. During his Thursday visit to the University Park Campus, Nakasone met with staff writer Nina Raffio to reflect on his experiences as a Trojan and share his hopes for the future.

What does it mean to you to be able to return to campus today?

Nakasone: So much has changed over the past three decades since I got a graduate degree from USC [in 1989]. One thing that hasn’t changed is just being able to see students who are ready to engage on a number of different topics, and it is so refreshing as an alum.

You met with the USC Army Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets earlier today. What inspires you about engaging with students, the next generation of leaders and changemakers?

Nakasone: What really impressed me this morning with the cadets is they understand the challenges that face them in the future, but they also have an optimism that is infectious. They are thinking about what they need to do to be effective leaders in this new security domain and lead soldiers in the future.

Can you reflect on some of the experiences that made your time at USC memorable?

Nakasone: The one thing that I remember from my schooling is the fact that at the end of the day, I was thinking critically in terms of how you get to solutions for really tough problems. That’s what I learned from USC — being able to solve really hard problems with facts, assumptions, and [identifying] different options to choose from.

NSA Director Gen. Paul Nakasone visits USC

Earlier today, you encouraged students to consider careers in public service. Could you elaborate on the value of a career dedicated to serving others?

Nakasone: It’s about something greater than yourself. Whether or not it’s Teach for America, whether or not it’s the Peace Corps, whether or not it’s in uniform, whether or not it’s serving within our government, our nation has tremendous assets. Our nation also has tremendous challenges for the future. And the way that we solve those challenges is with dedicated, smart people like graduates from USC.

What are your thoughts on the value of partnerships between higher education and agencies like the NSA?

Nakasone: We look for new and innovative ideas any place we can get them. Academia is a great place to come for those types of ideas.

Sometimes when you’re in an agency, you’re so confined to just thinking about what’s occurring on a day-to-day basis. Being able to come to an institution like USC and being able to think more broadly about the implications of a solution that you’re developing or… a series of alternatives that you might want to propose, is what academia does so well.

In such turbulent times, what gives you hope?

Nakasone: What gives me hope is the fact that we have a nation of people that continues to look for and be able to develop innovation. We have a country that is seen by other countries in the world as a beacon of hope. We have the ability to form partnerships. We do have challenges that are very complex, but I have great faith in what our nation can do.