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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Howard

USC New Student Convocation

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in The University of Southern California’s new student convocation. Spoiler alert: I have deferred until January. But I could not miss opening convocation. Even if participating remotely. If I am to move forward in the spring, I will plan to attend convocation in-person. I would’ve LOVED to be at this one just to capture it, remember it. It entailed all the grandeur and pomp you would expect from a university of this caliber. The band played, students and faculty all dressed in beautiful regalia, each department marching out together with their banner flying, and enthusiastic new students (undergrad, graduate and doctoral) signaling “fight on” as cameras flashed. Already, I was moved, and this was before even a single word was spoken.

university president Carol Folt

A variety of faculty and student leaders took the stage to welcome the new class, share words of wisdom and guidance, and finally induct each student (with their department) as official USC Trojans. I so loved the words shared by university president, Carol Folt, in addition to the many incredible student speakers. Below are just a few snippets of different speeches (imagine hearing the words in their entirety, because it was inspiring, exciting and deeply moving).

“You are a magnificent sight. Start by absorbing all of this. Remember it. Be inspired by it. The beauty of our campus, standing with thousands of fellow students dressed up, ready to go. You are joining an incredible group of those who know how hard you worked to earn your seat. Push yourselves to learn, grow. We’re linked through history.

Barbie. She chooses complexity with its uncertainty, its mistakes and its humanity.

There is an incredible world opening for you right now.

The search never ends. And not every step proves successful. Many of my best decisions followed my biggest mistakes.

Neil Armstrong said, Mystery creates wonder. And wonder is the basis of humanity’s desire to understand.

graduation group smiling and cheering

5 small pieces of advice:

Set an intention to adopt a beginner’s mind.

Stay curious.

Stay hungry.

As Taylor Swift reminds millions, can’t stop, don’t stop. She also says Shake it Off. And roll with the inevitable setbacks. You will have people to help you. Setbacks become set ups. Save the moments. How we spend our days is how we spend our lives. So new students, today you are entering your USC era. And it’s gonna be more than alright. It is going to be spectacular.”

“Seek guidance but don’t seek answers.”

asian girl in wheelchair at podium

“You belong here. You were not admitted here by mistake. You are here because of who you are. Your experiences. Your academic achievement. Your athletic prowess. Your inherent power. You are here because you deserve to be. Family, friends and mentors lifted you up in times of doubt, celebrated with you in times of triumph.”

“Guarding Tommy Trojan before USC UCLA game.”

“Sometimes we forget to smell the roses as we go from one achievement to the next. It is so scary, yet satisfying, to make something tangible out of your ideas. Just draw it. If you pass an improv group, stay. Participate. Give them a prompt. If your friends invite you to attend a dress rehearsal, go. They need you and you need them too.”

“You are part of a community and a family. Absorb as much as you can. Take classes that will challenge you and engage you in deep discussion outside of class with students and faculty. I want you to think big. Take risks. Follow your passions. Taking risks to really understand yourself and the world around you. You have earned the right to fail. You will make mistakes. But when you do, you get a second chance. Commit yourself to empathy and change. With a gathering of students whose vision of the world we live in will set them apart.”

graduation crowd cheering

"Informed, inspired and connected. Annenberg.”

“Prelude to a lifetime of learning.

“I present to you a gathering of students whose passion for scholarly inquiry and creative expression will drive them to explore the frontiers of knowledge in the arts and humanities, social sciences and natural sciences and to shape the future of their chosen professions. Intellectual curiosity, they will make their mark in the community and our world. Welcome to USC and fight on.”

“Wake and ask, ‘Where will my beginners mind take me?’ Like Ted Lasso’s ‘Believe’ sign. You could make a post it. ‘Fresh start every day.’ Make a community of those who will support you. Join in our fight for sustainability. Our greatest assignment. Big shoutout of thanks to friends and family here with you. Pretend we just beat UCLA. Thanks to everyone who make this campus so beautiful. Welcome to your first official, “Fight on!”

I felt my place within this institution even more deeply than I had before. I adored the energy of the president (who reminded me at first glance of Felice Martin). Loved her more when she referenced Taylor Swift, Barbie and Ted Lasso in her remarks. She also shared a bit about the diversity of her path, and how every bit of it led her to where she is right now in this moment. Even serving bowls of clam chowder to demanding patrons at a fancy oceanfront restaurant in San Diego.


The energy of every speaker, every faculty member, every student, and the proud families cheering them on all spoke to me. I can still hear the fight song playing. I can still feel the inner whispers of my soul saying…you know you want to go. You know you want to be a part of this. You know you can do it. Then my fears surface. But what about the tuition? $71,808. I don’t want to take on more school debt. What if I don’t have the time or bandwidth? What if I try and fail at both my job and school?

Lots of people are asking me about the ROI on such an investment. And I cannot immediately provide it. However, I know two things. My entire life, I have chosen distinctive containers for growth and/or to afford myself certain experiences, and it usually lands me with those who are the best at what they do. And in relatively exclusive environments.

The other feeling I have is that though I can tell you what the courses are, and what the degree is, and the potential for increase in income or responsibility, etc. the true benefits of this program are only going to be realized as I go through it and when I complete it to see what it inspires me to create (in my career, in my writing, in the way I connect and communicate and in my life). They say when the student is ready, the teacher appears.

So I continue to search my soul (and talk to others less) about this big decision. And regardless of my final decision, I continue to be so proud. I consider this my Fight on era.

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