University of Southern California

About USC

Message to USC Ambassadors – April 2019

Commencement is fast approaching, and promises to be an extraordinary day for our graduating students and their families.  I very much look forward to participating as president.  It has been one of my life’s greatest honors to serve as interim president of USC, and to lead our magnificent Trojan Family during this transition period.  The class of 2019 will always have a special place in my heart, and I wish each graduating student every success in life.

Our Trojan Family’s spirit was certainly unmistakable earlier this month as we welcomed more than 150,000 people from all over the country to our University Park Campus for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.  This was the ninth straight year that USC hosted the festival, which now stands as the largest literary event of its kind in the United States.  Some of our guests heard writer Susan Orlean talk about her latest book, which tells the story of the 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Central Library, while others attended inspiring, standing-room-only panel discussions featuring USC faculty.  Others took advantage of health screenings, while families passed the day in our community booth, where we had art projects and readings for young children.  As always, it’s a terrific day for our local communities, as so many guests find a pleasant spot on our campus to try delicious food, listen to live music, or read a new book.  Seeing all the young faces in the crowd makes it all the more special.

Moving from books to films, this year the USC School of Cinematic Arts celebrates its ninetieth anniversary.  To mark this milestone, the Los Angeles Times published a wonderful story on the school’s history, pointing out that its earliest instructors were some of Hollywood’s most legendary figures, including actors Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, and filmmakers D.W. Griffith, Ernst Lubitsch, Irving Thalberg, and Darryl F. Zanuck.  This tradition of excellence continues today, as the school’s alumni include filmmakers Ron Howard and George Lucas.  We had yet another reminder of the university’s stature at this year’s Academy Awards: USC alumni and students earned a remarkable range of Oscar nominations, and Trojans won the awards for Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Score, Best Film Editing, Best Documentary Short, and Best Documentary Feature.

In addition to these impressive Oscar wins, I was delighted to see that the Los Angeles Sentinel recently highlighted one of the many gems of our Thornton School of Music faculty: Patrice Rushen.  The story coincided with Professor Rushen’s earning a prestigious accolade from the California Jazz Foundation.  Many of us remember her hit song from the early 1980s, “Forget Me Nots,” but she is also a gifted and generous teacher.  She continues to write and perform her own compositions, and the interview will give you a sense of how she brings all of these talents together as chair of our popular music program.

Earlier this month, we also came together to recognize excellence in engineering at the annual Viterbi Awards.  This year, I had the privilege of presenting the Lifetime Achievement Award to Dan Mote Jr., who is the president of the National Academy of Engineering.  We also honored USC alumna Linnie Haynesworth, who is a vice president at Northrop Grumman, and Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX.  It was a beautiful evening!

Before closing this month’s letter, I want to share an uplifting story that unfolded right here at Keck Medicine of USC.  It involves a true hero, Damian Delaney, a high school teacher who donated part of his liver to a complete stranger, Breana Shaw, a young woman whom he only met after the surgery.  This delicate transplant took place at Keck Medicine of USC, and gave Ms. Shaw new hope and a fresh start in life.  Their story appeared on the Today show, and touched so many individuals around the world.

I hope to see you at Commencement on May 10, as we send our newest class of students out in the world.  Our commencement speaker will be the Honorable Karen Bass, who represents USC’s district in Congress, and this year, we also graduate the inaugural class of students from the USC Kaufman School of Dance.  The Kaufman School’s speaker will be dance luminary Mikhail Baryshnikov, who will surely inspire all of our graduating students to Fight On! 

Looking down the road, on July 1, the USC community will formally welcome Dr. Carol L. Folt as the university’s new president.  She and I have been speaking nearly every day, as we prepare for a smooth transition in the university’s leadership.  Dr. Folt is a passionate leader, and has already discovered the warmth of our Trojan Family.  It has been a joy to see her so warmly embraced!


Wanda M. Austin
Interim President