University of Southern California

The Letter That Changed My Life
October 29, 2012 • by Don McNerney

My dad was an alcoholic and lost his job when he was 42. He never recovered. We lived in Monrovia, California, which was a little rough back then. Mom was a church secretary and she had to figure out how to support the family. She went to a local community college, took accounting classes, and then worked for World Vision. My mother told me, “Donny, you would do well in accounting!”

I took her advice. I went to the same community college, took accounting classes, and decided to push myself. I got on the Dean’s list at Citrus Junior College and applied to USC to finish my final two years. I was working in the shoe department at J.C. Penney at the time – I can still look at anybody’s foot and pretty much tell them what size they wear. One day my mother came into the store holding an envelope. It was from USC. She apologized: She hadn’t realized what it was and had opened it. We went outside the store to a little park across the street. My mother sat down and started crying. I looked at her and thought, “I got accepted to USC – but I won’t be able to go because we can’t afford it.” I opened the letter and read it. Yes, I had been accepted. But the letter went on. They offered me a full scholarship. I would be able to go to USC! My mother was crying tears of joy.

That letter turned my life around. I went to USC. My high school sweetheart, Sheila, was starting there as a freshman, too – and she has never left my side. I attended classes with great professors like Dr. Andy Mosich, and when I graduated, I got a job at Arthur Andersen. In 1981, I opened my own CPA firm: Caldwell and McNerney. In 1986 we merged with Haynie and Company, CPA’s and I became the Managing Partner. We eventually bought our own building in Newport Beach and even during the past four or five year of the most recent recession, our firm has grown.

My oldest son, Jeff, went to USC and majored in accounting as well. That snuck up on me. I had no idea that’s where he wanted to go to college. I didn’t push him into it; I didn’t even suggest it. He and his younger brother, Brad, both graduated at the top of their classes in high school as valedictorians, and I told them, “I’ll send you to whatever school you want to go to since you worked so hard in high school.” Slam dunk, both of them chose USC. I think it’s because they saw the power of the Trojan family. It’s hard to describe to people who don’t have it. But it’s real. It’s a family. We take care of our own. After graduating, my son Jeff started his accounting career with KPMG, but he now works with my accounting firm, and we’re lucky to have him. His brother will be starting his freshman year at USC soon. I have a great life with my wife Sheila, my daughter, and two sons – and it all started with a letter from USC and a scholarship.

That’s why it’s vitally important to support USC and the scholarships it offers. Because some kid is out there, hoping to give his family a better life than the one he might have had when he was growing up. One letter could change his life forever.

Please give today.

Fight On!
Don McNerney