The University of Southern California’s original seal was developed in 1884 to emboss the diplomas of the school’s first graduating class. This seal depicted the year of USC’s founding (1880) emblazoned on a scroll next to a palm tree (in heraldry, a symbol of righteousness and victory), with the name of the institution inscribed around the border.
At the behest of university administrators in 1908, Jesse Ray Miller devised a new seal that introduced USC’s official flower, the California poppy, a heraldic symbol of remembrance, hope, joy and growth. The seal also included a shield bearing a setting sun and three torches. In heraldic tradition, the torch symbolizes learning, and the three torches displayed here represented learning in the arts, the sciences and philosophy. The sun signified the West and, according to heraldic symbolism, power and life. Finally, enfolding the shield was a scroll displaying the university’s new motto, “palmam qui meruit ferat.”
In 1948, the USC Board of Trustees approved an updated version of the university seal. In this version, the poppies appear next to the shield inside of the outer band, which is now formatted as a scroll, and the Latin motto is emblazoned on a separate scroll at the base of the seal. This seal continues to be the imprimatur, or official signature, of USC to this day.