USC spring convocation 2024: procession of faculty members

Faculty members enter the spring convocation ceremony. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)


USC officially welcomes newest Trojans with encouragement, advice at spring convocation

Nearly 2,400 undergraduate, graduate and professional students are starting the next chapter in their academic journeys.

January 05, 2024 By Greg Hernandez

With spring semester classes beginning on Monday, nearly 2,400 incoming Trojans got some early inspiration from USC President Carol Folt at new student convocation on Friday.

USC spring convocation: President Carol Folt
President Carol Folt sends the newest members of the Trojan Family on their USC academic journey. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

“You’re surrounded by people who are just as curious, excited and ambitious as you are,” Folt said in her remarks. “You all worked to earn your seats here at one of the world’s great research universities.”

From the stage inside a giant tent that was raised in McCarthy Quad at USC’s University Park Campus for the occasion, Folt spoke about cultivating “a beginner’s mind” when confronting such challenges as new technologies, climate change, emerging computing and artificial intelligence in a commitment to achieving true understanding. She said such a mindset replaces fear of the unknown with optimism and possibility.

“USC is a fantastic learning sandbox — your ideas will evolve with the help of thought leaders, award-winning creators and performers, writers, economists, policymakers and game-changers in every field,” she said. “It is all here.”

Folt joined Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Andrew T. Guzman and other university leaders on stage for the convocation, which officially launches the academic careers of Trojans who are starting classes at USC in the middle of the school year.

These newest Trojans come from varied backgrounds: 100 of them are military veterans, 36% are international students, 26% are first-generation students whose parents did not graduate from a four-year college, and 10% come from a family with at least one Trojan alum.

Folt encouraged the students to be willing to shed first impressions, stay open-minded and avoid making decisions based on impulse. She also recommended not labeling someone as “bad” simply because you disagree with them to avoid a “them versus us” or “right versus wrong” mentality.

“People are nuanced,” she said. “They can’t be categorized by simple stereotypes, and most importantly, their perspectives and dreams grow and change. If, starting today, you commit to remembering that your first impressions are rarely your next ones, you’ve already come a long way.”

USC spring convocation: Sending a message from the past

Professor Lisa Pecot-Hébert of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism gave the assembled students their first homework assignment: She asked them to write a letter to their future selves — a letter to put away and not read again until commencement.

USC spring convocation: Lisa Pecot-Hébert
USC Annenberg’s Lisa Pecot-Hébert shares some thoughts with the new Trojans. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

“When writing to your future self, don’t be afraid to dream big,” Pecot-Hébert said during her address. “Visualize who you want to be, what you want to accomplish while you are here. If you can see it, you can achieve it.”

Pecot-Hébert, who advises students through her involvement with the National Association of Black Journalists, shared how she overcame teenage self-doubt to make her academic and professional dreams come true.

“There are many things that will come your way in the next few years that you never imagined would happen,” she said. “So, I want you to embrace change, view challenges as opportunities and never, ever stop evolving.”

Sage advice from fellow Trojans

USC Undergraduate Student Government President Divya Jakatdar said that after completing her freshman year remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, she arrived on campus feeling like she had to make up for lost time. She joined several clubs and attended countless job fairs — and quickly found herself exhausted.

“Yes, you can do anything here, but please don’t feel like you have to do everything,” Jakatdar said. “USC is now and forever your home, and you can always come back for more.”

USC Graduate Student Government President Jose Scott also advised students to make self-care a priority and not be afraid to ask for and accept help.

“You are part of a community that believes in the most authentic you and will be here to cheer you on every step of the way,” Scott said. “You should make the most of this time in your life when you’re not expected to have it all figured out.”

USC alumnus Nick Chapman returned to campus to address the new students, many of whom are transfer students like he was. Chapman was president of USC’s Transfer Student Assembly and graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience. He said seeking mentorship is essential all along the academic journey.

“I did everything to keep my dreams alive,” said Chapman, who now works in clinical research at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “You aren’t here to prove others wrong, but to prove yourself right. Each and every one of you sits here today because you were selected and have a reason to attend this institution.”

Academic regalia a pleasant surprise at USC spring convocation

Many of the students were surprised to be wearing a black academic robe for the occasion. USC is unusual in that it starts its students off in academic regalia to signify that convocation is both a joyous and serious event.

Folt explained that the gowns “follow an ancient custom that links us back to scholars from the Middle Ages” and will be embellished with colorful sashes and embroidered symbols by graduation day that reflect each student’s experience.

“I like the robe and how at the end of your academic experience, you’re going to have so much more on it,” said David John, a freshman at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “It was a great way to show you that you are part of the Trojan Family.”

Amber Yacoub, a USC Dornsife junior who transferred from San Diego State University, posed in her robe after the ceremony with her mother, grandmother, twin sister and cousin.

“It’s really intense, but I like it,” Yacoub said. “All the formality makes me even more excited to be here. I wanted USC when I was in high school, but I didn’t get in. Then I decided to reapply and I got in.”

USC spring convocation: Ferris Lachman and his mother, Jacqueline Lachman
USC Dornsife sophomore Ferris Lachman, who transferred from Southern Methodist University, attends with his mother, Jacqueline Lachman. (USC Photo/Greg Hernandez)

Ferris Lachman, a USC Dornsife sophomore who transferred from Southern Methodist University, waited in line after the ceremony to return his robe.

“It’s very surreal; it’s almost like an Ivy League school,” he said. “I was not expecting all of this, and I’m pleasantly surprised. A lot of what was said was really inspiring, and I’m really excited to be here.”

Lachman was with his mother, who traveled from New York City to get her son settled at USC.

“It was so hard for him to get here, and it took so long,” Jacqueline Lachman said as she began to shed tears. “I’m so proud.”

Freshman Abigail Mann is beginning her Trojan journey at the USC Price School of Public Policy in the spring because she spent the fall studying in London.

“It was a really good welcome into the Trojan Family because it’s been a little bit scary moving across the country,” said Mann, who is from Chattanooga, Tenn. “They gave really practical advice, which I really appreciated. It was nice to hear from people who have already had the Trojan experience.”

USC spring convocation: Students take photos
Students capture the moment. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

The scenes after the event resembled commencement day, with students taking selfies with each other and proud parents hugging their children as they embark on a new chapter.

Graduate student Sanyam Raina of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering was among those posing for post-convocation photos outside when a USC staff member had to remind him and other students in his group to please return their robes.

Before returning to the tent, Raina reflected on the speakers and said he had every intention of completing Pecot-Hébert’s assignment.

“I’m actually going to write that letter to my future self,” he said. “I’ll look at it after two years to compare and see if I meet up with my expectations.”