At USC’s 136th Commencement on May 10, 2019, more than 2,300 USC Marshall and Leventhal graduates received their diplomas, turned their tassels and celebrated the milestone of becoming Trojan alumni.
Three business leaders spoke to the graduates during three satellite ceremonies at the University Park campus of the University of Southern California: DeVon Franklin, an award-winning film and TV producer, best-selling author, preacher and spiritual success coach; Michelle Witteman Taylor, president of M. Taylor Associates LLC; and Kelly Grier, EY’s U.S. chairman and managing partner and Americas managing partner.
Do the Right Things
USC Marshall Dean James G. Ellis introduced the undergraduate Class of 2019 at a Galen Center ceremony in the morning.
“They became adults while they were here, and now must shoulder the responsibility of leading a world that seems to be in turmoil all the time. They must make the right choices and do the right things. This is a world that needs ethics and morality. It needs values,” Ellis said to applause. “They have the skill sets and they have the values to make it happen—they have the spirit and the ability to truly make this a better world.”
“Your difference is your destiny. Do not exchange what makes you different for what makes you common.” —DeVon Franklin '00, to undergraduates at the 2019 USC Marshall Commencement Ceremony
Franklin ’00 gave a rousing speech about making his dream a reality. After working as a creative executive at MGM and director of development at Columbia Pictures, he founded Franklin Entertainment, a dynamic multimedia entertainment company with a first-look deal at 20th Century Fox/Disney—a company for which he wrote a business plan in an entrepreneurship class at Marshall.
Franklin got a standing ovation after sharing his tips for success in business, among them: “First and foremost, you have to be crazy. I sat where you sat 19 years ago, and I had a crazy dream: to become a producer in Hollywood with my own deal. And people said, ‘DeVon, it’s not possible. You’re African American, you’re Christian, there’s no way you can find a place.’”
“Your difference is your destiny,” he said. “Do not exchange what makes you different for what makes you common.”
In an afternoon ceremony in Epstein Family Plaza, Leventhal Dean William W. Holder welcomed the accounting undergraduates and graduates.
Commencement speaker Grier was named one of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women in 2018 when she took on her current role leading EY in the U.S. and the EY Americas geographic area, which represent more than 72,000 people in 31 countries, with annual revenue of $15.6 billion.
Grier talked about the value of a Leventhal accounting degree in an ever-changing economy.
“You have everything you need to succeed no matter what comes your way,” Grier said, “because in addition to equipping you with the essential knowledge about how business works, your education has given you two other extremely important things:
“First, you’ve had the chance to explore your interests and you’ve learned the value of curiosity along the way. And second, you’ve had the chance to live the values that are essential to the accounting profession, those that have been cultivated here at USC Leventhal: a sense of respect and integrity that will serve you well throughout your careers.”
Esprit de Corps
At an evening ceremony for graduate students at the Galen Center, the talk once again turned to the need for values and integrity.
“You’ve already demonstrated superior intellect by getting into USC graduate business school and the perseverance to graduate here today,” said graduate commencement speaker Taylor MBA ’79, a leader in the beauty industry who has held executive positions at Kiehl’s, Chanel Beauté and Lancôme. “But intellect and perseverance will only get you in the door. It is integrity, ethics and character that will really make the difference in how you ascend the management ladder and are ultimately remembered.”
“[Jim Ellis's] accomplishments for the Marshall school are numerous, but it’s his character that we all remember most.”—Michelle Witteman Taylor MBA '79
She cited Ellis as someone who epitomizes the values she espoused.
“His integrity, honesty, compassion and empathy—not to mention his selfless nature—are second to none, and are most evident in the respect and love that you, the students, the faculty and his peers have for him,” she said. “His accomplishments for the Marshall school are numerous, but it’s his character that we all remember most.”
Student speaker John Park MBV ’19 remarked that the Trojan family had the same “esprit de corps”—a close bond created by people in the same group—as he felt in the Marine Corp.
“Among the values of being a Trojan are honesty and integrity,” he said. “As we go into the next chapter of our lives, we need to always embrace these values.”