September 8, 2011
By C. L. Max Nikias

Good morning! I’m delighted to be here, to personally welcome you all to the Trojan Family and to discuss USC’s commitment to sportsmanship, embodied in the NCAA’s rules and regulations.

I believe the rules and regulations serve together as our friend, as our ally. They represent the guidelines that we and our competitors have agreed to abide by. They represent the foundation of sportsmanship and the foundation of our own efforts to reach greatness.

At USC, we always seek the glory that comes with right action and right effort and right dedication. What we build at USC, we build so that it can stand for generations to come. We seek that all our accomplishments be unblemished, that our integrity be unimpeachable, that what we achieve cannot be questioned by anyone. Only in this way can we be sure that what we build will stand the test of time.

Over the past year USC has built what may be the country’s strongest athletics compliance team, led by David Roberts. Pat Haden and Dave and I work together closely, and it has been an enjoyable and productive partnership. Dave and his team are here to allow you to do things the right way.

You may have heard that Chuck and Jessie Cale recently endowed the Charles Griffin Cale Director of Athletics’ Chair at USC, and that Pat Haden is the chair’s first holder. It’s a fitting tribute to the man who sets the standard for what a 21st century athletic director should be – a gifted scholar and athlete and businessperson and civic leader. I am thrilled that he is serving his alma mater by providing excellent leadership at this time of our athletics history.

Preparations are under way for the 2012 Summer Olympics, and I’m sure many of you have had Olympic dreams for many years. Here at USC, we love the Olympic spirit. We love our successes on that great international stage.

Picture that magnificent torch atop the Peristyle end of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. People think of it as the Olympic torch, going back to the 1932 Olympics held here.

It is that, but it is much more than that. The Olympic flame signifies the flame of Prometheus. In Greek mythology, Prometheus was the only one, brave enough, to steal fire from the Gods of Mt. Olympus and bring it down as a gift to humanity.

With this gift of fire, taken from Heaven itself, Prometheus brings light to humanity. He brings the blessings of civilization, in the form of the arts, sciences and technology. That is what the ancient people celebrated in the Olympic flame, and that is what is implied each time the Coliseum torch is lit at the beginning of the fourth quarter of each home football game.

The athletic quest was not divorced from the intellectual quest in that great ancient society, which gave birth to so much of modern civilization. They believed that, for a human being to reach his or her potential, he or she had to achieve excellence in the mind and body and spirit.

Excellence in all things: Like no other university community in America, the USC Trojans have brought that approach here in our day. So is it any wonder that USC has more Olympians than any other university in America?

Of course, it can be very difficult to live the full life of the mind at a great university. It is far more difficult to live the full life of the mind and the body here.

It is hard to be a successful student at USC. It is much harder to be a successful student-athlete. I know you must make sacrifices that many ordinary students do not make. Sacrifices that many athletes elsewhere do not make. I understand that. We all deeply appreciate that. And I know that this is for a reason: Because you are not ordinary people.

You have been marked out for greatness. You are learning discipline that is the key to greatness – discipline that can open up unlimited new opportunities in life for you and for those you live. And we will be here for you, to help you reach greatness.

In this regard, your coaches are your teachers, just like the professors in the classroom. And all of them have been instructed to teach discipline and character to you.

Why? Because the great 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 her life.

Through the centuries, this timeless truth has been reaffirmed by figures from Pericles of Athens to George Washington, to the rest of our Founding Fathers, to Abraham Lincoln to Vince Lombardi.

Yes, we speak of NCAA “compliance” today, but let us continue speaking of character, which understands compliance, but which rises above compliance. Compliance is a stumbling block for most people, but it is a stepping stone for those with high character. That is true greatness. It results from simple, hard work, and from good choices, doing the right thing, playing by the rules!

I am proud and pleased that you have made some wonderful choices so far. You did not choose to pursue a degree from an ordinary college. You chose to have the life-changing experience of an extraordinary university with excellent academic and athletic programs.

You did not choose to live in an average city. You chose to spend your college years in one of the most exciting cities in the world.

You passed up Florida and Alabama and Nebraska and Oregon and Washington and Northern California. You came here, to the heart of Los Angeles, the most exciting city in the world!

There is no other university in America that combines USC’s undisputed commitment to championship athletics with excellent academics. This is the true ideal symbolized by the Promethean flame, by the Olympic torch!

No one else offers USC’s combination of quality and location, and worldwide alumni network and alumni life, and intellectual and social and cultural variety. Forget whoever claims to be the gold standard for academics and athletics combined: USC is building the platinum standard.

One powerful piece of evidence is the construction that is moving along so rapidly on our John McKay Center. USC named it in honor of one of the greatest heroes of USC athletics. The McKay Center will give us a world-class facility, featuring 110,000 square feet of excellence. It will house student-athlete academic services and coaches’ offices.

It will offer an outstanding weight room, athletic training room, and digital media production facility for our 21 different sports. And it will make a statement about how USC is the single greatest destination for students who aspire to make their mark athletically and academically and in life.

Allow me to close with one more reflection relating to the Olympics.

The Olympic marathon was a tribute to ancient Greece. In times of war in Classical Greece, armies designated special individuals to serve as runners from one city to another. This required persons of the utmost bravery and stamina.

The modern marathon, and its 26.2 mile length, go back to the legendary story of the Greek runner, Phidippides. It was said that Phidippides ran up to 150 miles over two days to alert allies that Persian forces from the east had landed at the city of Marathon, getting ready for an invasion. It was a September day in 490 B.C.

After the heavily outnumbered Athenians miraculously defeated the Persians, Phidippides ran about 26 miles from Marathon to Athens, to announce “Nenikekamen (Victory)” to the Athenian assembly at the Pnyx. The Battle of Marathon turned out to be one of the most decisive battles of Western civilization! What if the Persians had won the battle of Marathon? There would have been no Pericles, no Acropolis, no Socrates or Plato or Aristotle, no Sophocles or Aeschylus or Euripides, no Golden Age of Athens, no Olympic games and perhaps no western civilization in our days.

The exhausted runner, after announcing that victory had been gained, he collapsed and died on the spot from exhaustion. He laid down and breathed his last breath, with the satisfaction of knowing his life had been lived well and lived heroically.

The marathon is one of the greatest metaphors for human striving. In every age, human beings have sought to win quick success. But the marathon runner reminds us of the truth that the journey of life is an endlessly long one.

You, on average, will live to the age of 90, thanks to new and emerging medical advances that are happening right here on this campus and around the world! In other words, most of you will be alive for 70 years after your USC career is over. Even many of the most successful ones among you, who will be inducted into Halls of Fame, will be alive for 60 years upon the end of your athletic careers.

So, for USC, everything that we do – everything! – is done with an eye toward who you will be over the long course of your lifetime. Will you run the race as Phidippides did? With honor and distinction, knowing that your job was well done? Will you, with your last breath, declare, “Victory?”

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 live wisely and well during the marathon of your life’s adventure.

Make your experience here something that can last through many decades. Give your Trojan family the best, and we will give you our best, for the rest of your life.

Welcome to USC, thank you for attending the University of Southern California – and always remember the Marathon runner’s “Victory” shout: Fight On, always!