University of Southern California

"I'm Right Behind You"
November 23, 2011 • by Geena Haney

It was spring of my freshman year at USC Marshall School of Business. I had won a Trustee scholarship and now had an opportunity to intern in Shanghai. I also had another opportunity: The church near my home had founded a summer school. The leader of the program was not returning and no one had stepped into the role. There was going to be no camp unless I took their offer to head it up. There were 200 kids in the camp, 80 staffers, and hundreds of parents. I was only 19, and terrified to consider that possibility. It was a big position and I wasn't sure I was capable of doing it.

I had been in Dean James Ellis's Global Leadership Program for the last year, and I went to his office to get some advice. I told him my choices for the summer. I confessed how frightened I was of heading the school and asked him, "What should I do?" I surely believed he would tell me to go abroad, especially since his class was about global leadership. But he said, "Geena, don't be afraid to just dive off into the deep end and learn how to swim. I'm right behind you."

He had no idea how his metaphor resonated with me. I had swum competitively for 15 years. Many times I had jumped into the water in the deep end. It is only when you immerse yourself in something uncomfortable that you test yourself. I took the job. It was the most difficult summer of my life – and the most important in shaping me as a leader. When I saw Dean Ellis that fall, he asked how my summer had been. I told him it was hard, but worthwhile. And I thanked him for supporting me. I couldn't have done it without knowing that he was right behind me.

This spring I'll be graduating from Marshall and USC. What has been remarkable about attending this great university is this: USC opened one door for me, but with that one door, I was able to open five more for myself. Dean Ellis, on this Thanksgiving weekend, I want to thank you for supporting me. And I want you to know something: Now, I'm right behind you. I'll support you over the years.

Will you join me? This Thanksgiving, will you open one door for another Marshall student? And then we'll all see how many doors open behind us.

Fight On!
Geena Haney
USC Class of 2012