October 1, 2010
By C. L. Max Nikias

Good morning, everybody. Welcome to Trojan Parents Weekend!

It’s a special privilege for me to be a part of this weekend, both as the USC president and as a USC parent. My beloved wife, Niki, has shared with me the joy of being a Trojan parent.

I want to begin by thanking all of you for supporting the USC Parents Association’s Teaching and Mentoring Awards. I know this recognition means so much to my faculty colleagues.
I offer my warmest congratulations to Professors Lisa Cavanaugh, Wayne Glass, and Milind Tambe as this year’s winners. Your commitment to your students is an inspiration. The parents of your students have chosen you as the best of the best.

The USC Parents Association is itself being recognized as the best of the best. At a ceremony tonight the USC Alumni Association will present the Parents Association with our Volunteer Organization of the Year Award. It is a well-deserved honor. The Alumni Association will also honor the co-presidents of the USC Parents Council: Lisa and Gregg Gipe. They will be presented with the President’s Award for their excellent leadership. Congratulations!

This spring my elder daughter, Georgiana, will graduate from the USC Gould School of Law, which will be her third degree from USC. For her undergraduate studies she did a double major in English and archaeology. In between, she earned a master’s degree from Oxford University.
My younger daughter, Maria, will receive her bachelor’s degree from the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, with a minor in business.

Having served as a professor, as a dean, then a provost, and now a president, I have been guided first and foremost by the perspective of a USC parent. I always remind my faculty colleagues that every September we are a year older but our freshmen are always 18! So, it has been incredibly helpful to be able to go to lunch on campus with one of my daughters to get an inside view of what is on the mind of the USC Class of 2011.

As a parent, I know you have made enormous sacrifices in order for your children to be at this point in their lives. I want you to know, I identify deeply with the concerns, the hopes, and the dreams you have for your own daughters and sons.

I want you to know that I am strongly committed to keeping our students safe. A comprehensive report on the security of our campus and its nearby neighborhoods was the very first briefing that I requested, as soon as I was named the president-elect of USC. It was a lengthy briefing one evening. Niki joined me for it. We wanted to see firsthand the additional security measures USC had put in place in the past three years. These security measures have helped sharply reduce crime in the surrounding areas of this campus by 70 percent.

These safety improvements include:

  • Installing 27 cameras to monitor off-campus areas,
  • Encouraging students to use the trams and campus cruisers,
  • Strengthening our collaboration with the L.A.P.D.,
  • Cutting through the red tape, so that our own officers can arrest suspects without waiting for L.A.P.D. officers to arrive,
  • And adding 22 security ambassadors who are easy to spot in their yellow jackets and who keep a sharp lookout at specific locations off campus from noon to 4:00 a.m.

I want you to know that Niki and I made it a point to visit the public safety department’s command center and to talk to the operators there who monitor the cameras. We were also briefed by L.A.P.D. officers. We walked the campus at night. And we drove around the neighborhoods with USC’s chief of public safety, Carey Drayton. We thanked Chief Drayton and the officers for their commitment to public safety. We all agreed that personal safety is never a done deal.

I want you to know that my colleagues and I will constantly review our security efforts. We will try out new safety innovations. And we will continue to teach students to be vigilant.

Our children are our living poetry, the most precious works of art that we will ever produce, and we want them to fill the air with their own unique gifts. In sending your child, or your children, to USC, you have made one of the most important investments in your own life. And your children are now busy making their own investment in USC. In return, it is our mission to ensure that they do not simply get a college degree. Our goal is not simply for them to acquire a good job or a career. We want them to leave USC with far more than that!

I know many of you are parents of freshmen. That means that your family is now becoming a part of the magnificent Trojan Family. The Trojan Family is not just a slogan. The Trojan Family binds together people across generations and across continents.

The theme of this weekend is “Trojans without Borders” because the Trojan Family has no borders. Ours is an incomparable network of USC friends and family, spanning Southern California to Silicon Valley, to Seattle, to Chicago, to Dallas, to Atlanta, to Shanghai, to Seoul, from New York to New Delhi and from Hawaii to Hong Kong to London.
Our Trojan Family promotes the dreams and ambitions of women and men in more than 100 nations. It is a close family that calls out greatness and the highest expectations in one another. It is the very best network of people around the world. I hope your children embrace their Trojan Family and put it to good use as they build careers and lives of service and leadership.

I remind my daughters that, as this current recession has made clear, the treasures of wealth can be erased overnight. They only existed on paper. But the treasures of the mind cannot be erased. Indeed, these treasures allow a person to create, and to re-create, good situations in the midst of any challenges.

I believe the greatest treasure of the mind in addition to knowledge is character. The great Greek philosopher Heraclitus observed, about 2,600 years ago, that “Character is destiny.” A man or woman’s character is what inevitably shapes the course of his or her life. Through the centuries this timeless truth has been reaffirmed by figures from Pericles of Athens, to George Washington, to Abraham Lincoln, to Albert Einstein, and yes, to Vince Lombardi.

It is my priority as president to ensure that your children – regardless of their field of study – emerge with a strong sense of character, a profound understanding of themselves, and a deep sense of how to build relationships of trust, as well as an understanding of how to make wise choices and a sense of how to see new opportunities where others see a thick fog of uncertainty.

This brings up a question: Does your child know what she wants to do when she leaves USC? If he or she doesn’t, I want to encourage you not to be bothered by this. Our children are inheriting a world quite unlike the one we inherited. And by the way, Niki and I face the same challenges with our daughters. Heraclitus also was famous for noting that “the only constant in life is change,” and today things are changing far more rapidly.

Again, I believe a USC education is not simply training for a career. It is our effort to equip your child with the intellectual and social skills they will need to thrive in a world where whole industries and careers will rise up and vanish with unprecedented frequency.

I do not want your child to imagine that she will have one static and stable career. She must be ready to move and to blaze new trails for herself and for others. And remember, she or he will have an unmatched global network of alumni to call upon in this era of hyper-globalization.

So I hope you encourage your sons and daughters to take full advantage of a campus that radiates seven days a week with academic and cultural and athletic achievement. This broad, but integrated, range of experiences is what makes USC distinct. The last century was the century of specialization. It rewarded the person who was extremely good at one thing. The new era is about building bridges between entirely different specialties:

  • The mathematician who deeply understands the wonder and the art of music has an advantage over the mathematician who doesn’t.
  • And the musician who deeply understands the wonder of mathematics has an advantage over the musician who doesn’t.
  • The same applies for the physicist who deeply understands philosophy, and vice versa; the social scientist who deeply understands biology, and so on.

It is for this reason that USC developed an unrivaled range of 130 minors. This wide range makes it easy for our students to take a minor in an area that is far removed from his or her major. Many top universities discourage this; but again, that age of specialization is behind us.
By showing a true mastery of more than one subject, your student can become a modern-day Renaissance Scholar. We have a program that gives such a designation, along with the possibility of financial rewards, to graduating students who qualify.

We also have a similar program called the Discovery Scholar Program, which allows students to take advantage of the special opportunities that USC offers and to create new knowledge through research or original works of art during their undergraduate career. This can give your child an edge over the competition.

And, befitting a place that is emerging as a truly global university, we have a new Global Scholars Program for those who undertake significant study and projects overseas. I see a large distinction between a tourist and a global scholar. There are vast opportunities being opened up for your children as the Age of the Pacific dawns, and as the center of gravity shifts from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Being a Global Scholar, who truly studies in (and within) a culture across the Pacific, will help your son or daughter to claim these opportunities wisely.

In the spirit of Trojans without Borders, I should mention that USC has more international students and more international alumni than any other American university. These people represent the current and future leadership of some of the biggest economies and governments and cultures around the Pacific Rim. Some of our international parents are here this weekend. They come from Canada, Hong Kong, Mexico, France, Korea, and China. And there are a few parents here too from Japan, Malaysia, Afghanistan, and Uruguay.

All of your children can open doors for one another, here and overseas. I hope your sons and daughters will see students from other nations as a crucial part of their social network in coming years.

And regardless of your children’s area of study, please encourage them to immerse themselves fully in the creative capital of the world here in Los Angeles. USC is home to five of the strongest arts schools in America – in cinematic arts, fine arts, architecture, theater, and music.
These schools infuse the rest of our academic community with imagination. The future will belong to those who have imagination, especially as industries and careers rise and fall.

A few years ago, I established an arts and humanities initiative, Visions and Voices. It showcases the cultural excellence on campus and across the city. Each year, some 25,000 students from every academic discipline crowd into standing-room-only events. These unique events combine performances, and they encourage discussion and reflection. They fire up the students’ imaginations, challenge their assumptions, broaden their views, and yes, they help build character.

I’ve found that many students come to these events on the recommendation of their parents. We’ll be sending you a schedule of events every summer, and I hope that you will encourage your own son or daughter to mark their own calendars!

We will encourage you to come back to campus many times and to share this educational journey with your sons and daughters. I’m pleased to offer a special invitation to USC next spring. We announced last week that USC will be the new home for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, the nation’s largest public literary event.

Some of you may know that another school across town traditionally hosted this great festival, which draws 140,000 people each year. But the L.A. Times decided that hosting the event at USC will enhance the life of the downtown Los Angeles arts and education corridor. It will help USC to carry out our mission of engaging the entire community in sparking intellectual curiosity and energy for people of all ages. It will also showcase many of the state-of-the-art campus facilities that we’ve proudly opened in recent years.

From April 30 through May 1, 2011, our campus will be transformed into an exciting crossroads, filled with authors and poets, and exhibits and demonstrations. Young children will be thrilled by top storytellers, and adults can have major books signed by famous authors. I hope you can make time to join us for this wonderful celebration and to enjoy it with your sons and daughters.

That represents some of the cultural richness of USC. But allow me to point out one more aspect of your children’s journeys at USC: the chance to celebrate what we call Trojan spirit. That spirit is captured in USC’s unrivaled academic and athletic heritage, which serves as the glue that binds this worldwide family.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with some amazing people who support USC – people who build empires in their business, who established new corporations, or even new industries. They include alumni in Los Angeles, New York, Shanghai, Mumbai, and London, and some of the most famous and successful people on the planet.

And yet, do you know what gives them the greatest pleasure in life? Giving the “Fight On” sign! Especially at a football game! When we give that sign, and when we hear the song Conquest, as we will tomorrow in the Coliseum, we are joined together fully as the proud City of Troy. The “Fight On” sign embodies the energy, optimism, and ambition of this great family.

I look forward to staying in touch with you, and following the progress of your children – your precious works of art. I hope I may see your faces beaming with pride on the day they receive their USC diplomas. As the one signing that diploma, please know that I will share your pride.

And remember, this is not about four years of study. You and your children are all Trojans for life.

I wish you the best, and my family and I are proud to count you as part of our larger family: the Trojan Family.

Thank you for coming. And Fight On, always!