August 3, 2010
By C. L. Max Nikias

I’d like to welcome all of you back. I know you’ve been waiting for a chance to get back on the field and remind everybody that when the mighty Trojans are at their best, they cannot be defeated.

We, all of the Trojan Family, are impatient too. We will cheer you every step of the way: from Hawaii on September 2, to that December 4 showdown at the Rose Bowl, against that team across town.

Now, for those of you who are freshmen, let me personally welcome you to one of America’s greatest traditions: USC Trojan athletics! I’ve been here 19 years, and I’ve seen that there is something special about how Trojan athletics and USC football serve as the glue that binds the Trojan Family together.

As USC’s former provost, and as a former dean, I had the opportunity to work with some amazing people who support USC. People who build empires in their business, people who established new corporations or even new industries. Alumni in Los Angeles and New York and Shanghai and Mumbai and London. Some of the most famous and successful people on the planet.

And do you know what gives them the greatest pleasure in life? Giving the “Fight on” sign! They love giving that sign when you, the mighty Trojans, make them proud. This Trojan Family is made up of 250,000 alumni. It’s made up of people young and old, from about 120 nations. It also includes millions of people who watch you on TV, including young people who decide to come to USC because of you. It’s thousands of young children in our neighborhoods, who dream of following in your footsteps, and who commit to working harder, so that they can achieve that dream.

Yes, your success on the field symbolizes our Trojan Family’s energy and our optimism and our desire to be great. And, for you freshmen: We mean it when we say that you’re a Bruin for four years, but you are a Trojan for life! And this Trojan Family will be there for you, for life.

Do you know what it means to be a Trojan? I grew up reading about the various legends of the ancient city of Troy. The Trojan empire represented a classical tradition of bravery and honor. Against any odds, in any circumstances. Even when they were outnumbered. The legend of the Trojans is that no one worked harder than them, no one fought harder. And their will to greatness could even bend the will of the gods in heaven toward their favor. The Trojans always seized destiny.

Now here is a key: It was said that the Trojans renewed their great traditions, many times, in many different periods. And they achieved a new glory each time, for themselves, and for those who came after them. And for USC, for us, this is a season of renewal of the Trojan tradition. This is an incredible time to be a Trojan!

This renewal of the Trojan spirit is in good hands. I salute Coach Lane Kiffin, who has assembled the most brilliant coaching staff in America. These people understand greatness, and they understand the great heritage that has been entrusted to them. I also thank JK McKay for coming back to serve his alma mater and his football team.

And what more can I say about our own Pat Haden? This is someone who has made an incredible impact on and off the playing field. He won with honor at USC – and continued to win with honor every day. That is why he is so beloved by the Trojan Family. He was a trustee of the university – he was one of the owners of this university – and yet he chose to give that up, to have me as his boss, so that he could work with you. No one bleeds cardinal and gold like Pat Haden.

These men are not just great “football people.” They are great people. The lessons you learn from them will last a lifetime.

I’d like to offer one final thought. The classical Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “Character is destiny.” “A man’s character is his fate.”

With talent alone, you might have a great game, or even a great football career. But to build a great life, from the cradle to the grave, you need character. And we want you to become someone who can win with honor, with integrity, in every part of your lives. As student-athletes, you are expected to follow a long list of rules. At USC we expect you to do more than simply follow the rules. We want you to become the kind of a person who is known for undisputed integrity and character. This is so that your accomplishments can stand the test of time.

So do not waste this great opportunity – enjoy the USC experience for all its worth! Practice hard and play hard. And study hard: “Learn hard.” Learn in the classroom, learn on the field, and learn outside the classroom. You’ll find the world’s best arts and humanities and communications programs here, which help enhance a young person’s imagination and wisdom. Take advantage of this.

You’ll find more international students here than at any other university, and they can help you learn how to live life, make connections, and build careers in a truly global century. Take advantage of this.

You will find students from more backgrounds and interests than anywhere else, as can be seen from over 600 student groups on campus. Take advantage of this, so you can become the kind of a person that your family and your community can be proud of. Forever.

Remember: Most of your life will come after your playing days. The crowds will grow silent as you grow older. Your life will then consist of what you have built here: good relationships, good education, and above all a good reputation. So build wisely and well during your time here. Make it something that can last for a lifetime. Give your Trojan family the best, and we will give you our best, for the rest of your life.

Welcome, thank you, Fight On, always!