USC Announces Commencement Speaker, Honorary Degree Recipients

April 22, 2014

Contact: Robert Perkins at (213) 740-9226 or

More than 40,000 members of the Trojan Family will unite on the University Park Campus for USC’s 131st commencement ceremony on May 16.

Marc Benioff, CEO and chairman of, will deliver the address. Benioff, recognized as one of the pioneers behind cloud computing, is a USC alumnus and trustee.

Approximately 15,870 degrees will be conferred that day, including more than 1,500 doctorate degrees, either at the main ceremony in Alumni Park or one of the satellite ceremonies across campus.

Degree candidates, Half Century Trojans, faculty and distinguished guests will form a processional leaving Bovard Auditorium at 8:30 a.m. USC President C. L. Max Nikias will preside over the main ceremony at 9 a.m. in Alumni Park.

In addition, six honorary degree recipients, including Benioff, will be recognized for their contributions as civic, academic and arts leaders in the community. They are:

B. Wayne Hughes, a business leader and USC alumnus and trustee, who founded Public Storage, the largest self-storage company in the world, which he grew from one site in Southern California to more than 2,200 facilities in 38 states and seven Western European nations.

Shonda L. Rhimes, USC alumna and the creator and executive producer of several acclaimed ABC series, including “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice” and “Scandal,” and has earned widespread recognition for her commitment to featuring empowered characters who reflect the diversity of our society.

Phillip A. Sharp, a Nobel laureate whose advances in molecular biology and biochemistry include the discovery of “split genes,” which revealed that a given gene could be present in DNA as separated segments — a landmark achievement that has advanced our understanding of the genetic causes of cancer and other diseases. Sharp is Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

James H. Simons, a mathematician and philanthropist, whose scientific work in geometry and topology led to the establishment of Chern-Simons invariants, a theory that has profoundly influenced theoretical physics. He founded Renaissance Technologies, one of the most successful hedge funds in the world, and the Simons Foundation, which advances research in mathematics and the basic sciences.

Twyla Tharp, one of America’s preeminent dancers and choreographers, who has choreographed more than 160 works that include dances, television specials, Hollywood films, full-length ballets, Broadway shows and figure skating programs. She received the 2004 National Medal of Arts.

The university will also honor valedictorian Jana Shapiro and salutatorians Brian Lentz and Jared Sokol.

On May 14, the Keck School of Medicine of USC will hold its satellite ceremony for M.S., PhD and public health graduates. Helen M. Blau, director of the Baxter Laboratory in Stem Cell Biology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, will serve as the speaker. The speaker at the Keck School’s satellite ceremony for M.D./PhD and M.D. graduates on May 17 will be announced soon.

The baccalaureate ceremony for USC degree candidates and their families will be held at 5 p.m. on May 15 at Bovard Auditorium. Actor, writer and spiritual thinker Rainn Wilson will deliver the keynote address at the nondenominational, interfaith celebration. The baccalaureate dinner will follow at 6:30 p.m. on Pardee Way.

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Diplomas will be presented at satellite ceremonies for individual schools with the following speakers:

USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, School of Communication
T Bone Burnett, musician and producer

USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, School of Journalism
Thomas William Davis, president of Southern California Public Radio

USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences (group 1)
Peter Mancall, vice dean for humanities at USC Dornsife

USC Dornsife (group 2)
Wendy Wood, vice dean for social sciences at USC Dornsife

USC Dornsife (group 3)
Steven Lamy, vice dean for academic programs at USC Dornsife

USC Marshall School of Business (graduate)
Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft Corp.

USC Marshall School of Business (undergraduate)
Elon Musk, CEO and product architect of Tesla Motors and CEO and chief designer of Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX)

USC Leventhal School of Accounting
Dean Hallett, executive vice president of operations and strategy and CFO for Twentieth Century Fox

Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC
Michael Alfano, executive vice president of NYU

USC Rossier School of Education (master’s)
Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana, senior policy adviser and director, Education & Workforce Development, Office of Mayor Eric Garcetti

USC Health Promotion and Global Health Programs
Elahe Nezami, associate professor and director, USC Health Promotion and Global Health Programs; associate dean, Undergraduate, Masters and Professional Programs

ROTC Commissioning Ceremony: Air Force, Army and Navy
Major Gen. Ross E. Ridge, deputy commanding general, Initial Military Training, United States Army Training and Doctrine Command, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia

USC Viterbi School of Engineering (graduate)
Patrick Soon-Shiong, chairman of the Chan Soon-Shiong Family Foundation, chairman and CEO of the Institute for Advanced Health, chairman and CEO of the Healthcare Transformation Institute and founder of the National Coalition for Health Integration

USC Viterbi (undergraduate)
Deirdre Hanford, executive vice president, Customer Engagement at Synopsys

USC Thornton School of Music
John Fogerty, singer, songwriter, and guitarist

USC Roski School of Art and Design
Jackie DeHuff, vice president of creative, integrated marketing at Viacom

USC School of Architecture
Alberto Pérez-Gómez, chair of the History and Theory of Architecture program at McGill University School of Architecture

USC Gould School of Law
Luis Rodriguez, president, State Bar of California

USC Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
Elizabeth Yerxa, distinguished emeritus professor, USC Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy

USC Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy
Patrick McClenahan, president and CEO of the 2015 Special Olympics World Games

USC School of Social Work
Robert Hernandez, adjunct assistant professor, USC School of Social Work; co-founder and executive director, Visionary Youth Center Inc.

USC School of Pharmacy
Robert J. Narveson, chairman, Board of Directors, National Association of Chain Drug Stores; chairman, CEO and president, Thrifty White Drug Stores

Other satellite ceremony speakers to be announced will be posted on individual schools’ websites.