“You Are Not Here by Accident”

Linnie Haynesworth, USC Viterbi’s 2019 alumna of the year, pens a letter to her younger, Trojan self

Linnie Haynesworth, B.S. ’80, joined Northrop Grumman as an intern and today is sector vice president and general manager of the Cyber and Intelligence Mission Solutions division. But in 1977, Haynesworth was a somewhat shy USC undergraduate from Cass Technical High School in Detroit. In this letter, Haynesworth — the recipient of the 2019 Mark A. Stevens Distinguished Alumni Award — shares some advice with her younger self.

Dear Linnie,

As you begin life at USC Viterbi, be proud of how hard you’ve worked to get here. You’re

a young woman with a lot of confidence. You’ve had a job since you were 14 years old, which
has taught you to balance time and meet responsibilities. You stay positive and focused on your goals no matter what. But there are new challenges ahead: difficult coursework, busy schedules and, initially, isolation.

Pursuing a degree in electrical engineering won’t be easy, but you will find the path rewarding and joyful! Here’s some advice to get you on your way.

Challenge Yourself. Doing the hard stuff is hard! You’ve chosen electrical engineering, one of the most difficult paths for any student. Continue to embrace hard work, and don’t waste time on self-doubt. You are not here by accident — you’ve proven yourself worthy to be at USC. You can do this, right now, with more intention and at a higher level than you realize.

You will fail. Learn from it. Everybody fails, and everybody is afraid to fail. Remember that perfection is not required — persistence is! As women, sometimes our greatest barrier is the pressure we put on ourselves to be perfect. Get that line of thinking out of your head now! Perfection is not in any job description that I’ve ever seen. Don’t wait to act until you or the situation meets the definition of perfection.

Don’t isolate yourself. School can be isolating, especially when you’re the only woman and person of color in many of your classes. Lean on friends and family. Soon, the only other African-American woman in your chemistry class, Monique Hunter, will take time to introduce herself to you. The lifelong friendship that will come from this gesture will prove that one person’s kindness can have a profound and lasting impact on the life of another.

Pay attention to those around you, and connect with as many different people as you can. Leveraging diversity of thought will be critical to your success.

Get comfortable with discomfort. Every accomplishment comes with some discomfort. And there will be things in life that will be uncomfortable but that must be done. Get used to that feeling and establish mechanisms to work through it. The more you do something uncomfortable, the more comfortable you will be doing it.

Lead from where you sit. I know you just arrived on campus and how shy you are. But understand that even now, there are ways to lead at USC. All you have to do is speak up and engage. You don’t have to wait as long as I did. Believe me when I say that you have the ability right now to lead and help others do their best. Your voice matters. Use it.

Get your head in the clouds. Deep focus is important. But so is broad perspective. Knowing what’s going on beyond your books will make you a better engineer. Remember to overtly and purposefully connect with diverse thinkers. If that makes you uncomfortable, well … just remember what I said about discomfort!

Linnie, be confident and bold at USC. You will be honing your skills in critical thinking, your ability to focus, and leadership, but you will also learn how to make a positive difference in the world.

Embrace and enjoy the journey.