September 5, 2012
By C. L. Max Nikias

Today, we have been given the opportunity to create an extraordinary place: a special place that will carry a special name. Today we break ground on one of the world’s most forward-looking academic facilities, which will carry the name of a man and a woman who represent USC’s own forward-looking values.

The USC Verna and Peter Dauterive Interdisciplinary Social Sciences Building will be a truly remarkable place. Here the most remarkable people in the world will be brought together. Here they will be unleashed to achieve the most remarkable breakthroughs across the full range of social sciences. And here, breakthrough ideas will be developed into something that can improve the life of a family in downtown Los Angeles, a child in India, or entire societies and generations.

This building will be a towering symbol of the character and the aspirations of the Dauterives. I would like us all to appreciate how their character has already had such a historic impact on our university. Verna committed to this building in memory of her late husband, Peter. Peter received his bachelor’s degree from our Marshall School of Business. He rose to the position of executive vice president and managing officer of the Broadway Federal Savings and Loan Association. Later, Peter became the founding president and CEO of the Founders Savings and Loan Association.

Verna received her master’s and doctoral degrees from the USC Rossier School of Education. She then embarked on what would be a 62-year career with the Los Angeles Unified School District. During this time she served as a teacher, a superintendent’s coordinator of integration programs, an administrator of university relations, and a principal. Verna also served on the faculty of USC’s Rossier School. Governor Pete Wilson appointed her to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, and she was elected its chair for two terms. Prior to that, Governor George Deukmejian appointed her to the California Commission on the Status of Women, and she was elected its chair for two consecutive terms.

As the first woman president of the USC School of Education’s Educare support group, Verna conducted a special study in Europe on the feasibility of expanding USC’s overseas programs in administration, teacher training, and counseling. She set up fundraising chapters abroad for Educare, and taught classes for USC in Germany and Spain.

Verna and Peter met as students nearby, in Doheny Library. That led to an extraordinary, lifelong relationship. We are grateful that they would also maintain a lifelong relationship with their university. Time and again, they demonstrated a commitment to helping others and opening up new opportunities. Verna was part of a small group of alumni who formed the nucleus of the USC Black Alumni Association, and Peter was the group’s first major donor.

The Dauterives created the first major endowed scholarship in the Rossier School, to help outstanding black students to pursue doctoral studies in education. And they provided many generous forms of financial support to the Marshall School, the Rossier School, the USC Norris Cancer Center, and the USC School of Dramatic Arts.

Over the decades, the leadership of Verna and Peter has resulted in this university blossoming into the place that embodies many of their deepest values. Yes, USC is a world-class university. But it increasingly has been able to open its doors to outstanding women and men from every walk of life.

Now, in each new academic year, our freshman class includes 21 percent underrepresented minority students. Among research universities, only USC and Stanford have such a high rate of representation in California. Not one of the UC campuses can claim such a high figure of representation.

Today, 14.5 percent of USC’s freshman are first-generation college students—which means that this university is opening up the dream of higher education to a remarkable number of families.

Today, USC is able to provide the largest pool of financial aid in the nation—235 million dollars!—to make sure USC’s doors are open to as many deserving students as possible.

And today, USC is deeply rooted throughout our local K-12 schools. Working with a “family” of 15 local K-12 schools, we have been making a college education possible for thousands of children and families.

One major effort is known as the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative, or NAI. The NAI is a seven-year program to help local students prepare for college. There are currently 600 local students enrolled in this program. This year, 54 local students graduated, and 27 have come this fall as freshman to USC, where they carry full scholarships. We sent many other NAI graduates to other top colleges, including a pair of twins—one who went to Harvard and the other who went to West Point.

Wherever they have gone, whether here or elsewhere, these local schoolchildren carry the USC spirit with them. And that spirit finds it source in our own wonderful Verna Dauterive. Verna, your spirit has energized the Trojan spirit, and given it a unique character.

To know Verna is to know what is good in life and what is possible. She has indeed been a trailblazer, the first to break new ground in so many ways. This is because Verna always puts first things first. Everything that she does is marked by a distinct kind of wisdom, a high degree of compassion, the highest expectations for success, and a commitment to expanding opportunity for everyone!

It is indeed appropriate and poetic, then, that this place bear the name of two of our nation’s greatest champions of education: Verna and Peter Dauterive.

Verna, thank you, and Fight On, Always!