A Historic Graduation

Commencement returns post-pandemic and to the Coliseum for the first time in 71 years

A row of carefully arranged chairs dotted the field of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as graduates from USC’s classes of 2020 and 2021 stepped onto the field, in full academic regalia, to celebrate in-person ceremonies for the first time since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The stands were largely empty save for a few tearful family members waving banners and photos. Following California’s health and safety guidelines, graduation ceremonies were held twice a day, with limited capacity and distancing requirements, during the week of May 14–20.

In all, 1,125 graduate and undergraduate members of the Class of 2020 returned to their alma mater to celebrate their achievements, some crossing oceans and continents to complete a rite of passage that can never be fully experienced online. The Class of 2021 comprised 2,023 graduates and undergraduates in attendance.

USC conferred a total of 2,754 graduate degrees upon the engineering class of 2020 and 2,765 graduate degrees to the engineering class of 2021. Undergraduate engineering students of the Class of 2020 received 687 degrees, while the Class of 2021 received 829 degrees.

The historic event also marked commencement returning to the Coliseum for the first time in 71 years, as its size and capacity allowed for social distancing. The Class of 1950 was last USC graduating class to enjoy a Coliseum commencement.

“It is so fitting that we are formally certifying the crossing of your graduation finish line in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, home of the Olympics, home of the Trojans,” said Yannis C. Yortsos, dean of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. “Where the lighting of the torch can be taken to also symbolize the saying from Socrates: ‘Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.’”