Musician and producer Pharrell Williams speaks to Freedom School students

Musician and producer Pharrell Williams speaks to Freedom School students. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)


Year in review: Did you see who was on campus? USC draws the big names

USC 2016 | First in a nine-part series running through Dec. 31.

December 22, 2016 Joanna Clay

From political candidates to legendary musicians, celebrities stopped at USC in 2016, and the Trojan community had the opportunity to learn from the luminaries of our time. Here are a few memorable visits:

Pharrell Willams

Pharell Williams
Musician and producer Pharrell Williams speaks to Freedom School students. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Pharrell Williams, the musician behind the song “Happy,” was on Trojan territory this year. He talked to a room full of children at a USC-hosted event for Freedom Schools, a national literacy program for low-income Latino and African-American kids. Williams emphasized the importance of setting goals and following your passions. “Use your strength and your weaknesses for success,” he said.

Yo-Yo Ma

Yo-Yo Ma
Yo-Yo Ma (Photo/Todd Rosenberg Photography)

World renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma turned Bovard Auditorium into his concert hall for a night, performing alongside the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s outgoing music director Jeffrey Kahane. The two were friends who had toured together for roughly 10 years, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Bangles

The Bangles
The Bangles (Photo/Tabercil)

The Bangles performed some of their iconic 1980s hits at a free concert during Trojan Family Weekend in October. If you were looking to “Walk Like an Egyptian” or belt out “Manic Monday,” you had your chance.

Hillary Clinton

Garcetti and Clinton at event
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Hillary Clinton (Photo/Joseph Chen)

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president, came to visit the USC campus in March to discuss national security in the days following the terror attacks in Belgium. “We cannot allow our nation to be pitting groups of people against one another,” she said at the event, according to the Daily Trojan. “We cannot give in to panic and fear. That’s not in keeping with our values. It’s not effective in protecting us, and it plays into the hands of terrorists who want nothing more than to intimidate and terrorize people.” Clinton’s discussion included Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Salam Al-Marayati of the Muslim Public Affairs Council and other local officials.

Simon Helberg of The Big Bang Theory

Simon Helberg onstage
Actor Simon Helberg from the top-rated comedy The Big Bang Theory speaks to students from USC School of Dramatic Arts. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Simon Helberg, best known for playing Howard Wolowitz on the CBS show The Big Bang Theory, stopped by the USC School of Dramatic Arts for an intimate chat about show business with Dean David Bridel, one of his former professors. Helberg talked about going on 1,000 auditions while working in restaurants and renting spaces to host his own shows. He also joked about getting typecast as a geek in Hollywood: “I’ve played so many nerds in my life. I want to show off the hunkiness!”

Queens of comedy

group photo of comediennes
Suzanne Todd, Nicole Byer, Maria Bamford and Cameron Esposito, from left, spoke at USC. (USC Photo/Ted Catanzaro)

Producer Suzanne Todd and comics Maria Bamford, Nicole Byer and Cameron Esposito talked during the USC Comedy Festival in October about how they built their careers. They encouraged audience members, many of whom were students, to create opportunities for themselves. “I couldn’t get cast in anything. I auditioned for about 10 years,” said Bamford, who supported herself for a long time doing secretarial work. “Do what you can with what you have — so I did a one-person sitcom as a show.”

Zach Galifianakis

Zach Galifianakis speaks to class
Actor Zach Galifianakis speaks to students at the USC School of Dramatic Arts. (USC Photo/Mark Rivard)

Zach Galifianakis, star of the FX show Baskets and host of the comedy show Between Two Fernsreassured student comics during an April visit. “I still bomb all the time,” he said. He encouraged students to put themselves out there and learn from rejection. Don’t worry too much about networking or getting in with show business people, he advised. “Don’t do it. Just go perform. If you’re good, they’ll find you,” he said.

Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney of SNL

group photo with Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett
Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett, front and center, with students in a sketch comedy class. (Photo/Delphine Vasko)

Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney, Saturday Night Live cast members and USC graduates, stopped by a sketch comedy class in the spring. Starting out, they had a tough go getting gigs, so they went to YouTube. Their video Unbelievable Dinner has more than 1.4 million views to date. It spoofs a scene from the 1991 film Hook when the kids imagine they’re eating fantastical culinary creations. It got the attention of the film’s director and USC Trustee Steven Spielberg and eventually got them more opportunities.

Walter Mosley

Walter Mosley
Walter Mosley (Photo/David Shankbone)

The Edgar Allan Poe Award-winning mystery writer Walter Mosley made an appearance in February as a panelist at “True Crime,” a Visions and Voices event about crime writing, crime fighting and Los Angeles. Mosley is known for setting most of his books in postwar Los Angeles, such as his popular character Easy Rawlins, a private eye and war veteran from Watts. His book Devil in a Blue Dress was adapted to film in 1995 and starred Denzel Washington as Rawlins.