Thousands of gown-clad graduates marched into Alumni Park on Friday morning, their teary-eyed families looking on, toward the end of their college careers and the beginning of the rest of their lives.
The 125th Annual Commencement was marked by keynote speaker Robert Iger, the president and CEO of Walt Disney Co., who emphasized the importance of character in his speech.
"Character will define the life that you build and make sure every action you take demonstrates your integrity," said Iger during his speech.
Iger was presented with an honorary degree for his accomplishments as a business leader.
He also told his own story of trial and error in his search for a career and remarked how quickly his life has progressed.
"When you're 21 you think you have this endless supply of time, but you'll be amazed at how quickly it passes. I wish I had savored everything a little bit more," Iger said.
He wrapped up his speech with the importance of personal strength.
"When you believe in yourself, skeptics can be ignored. It doesn't matter what people say about you," he said.
Iger said he could identify with students because he understands the frustration of being doubted.
Iger met controversy and opposition when he was chosen as the CEO of Disney and also when he was chosen to be this year's commencement speaker.
Some students said before he spoke that they felt his speech would not be general enough to inspire people from all fields of study. Even after the ceremony, some graduates said they did not feel his speech was all-inclusive.
"I honestly didn't like Iger's speech because I'm not a businessman," said Jae Hae Chang, a graduating senior who majored in electrical engineering. "Money doesn't mean success to me and actually it's the last thing I care about."
Others said they thought Iger's speech was overarching enough to address the student body.
"I thought that Robert Iger's speech was appropriate and inspiring for all of us graduates. It didn't matter if it emphasized business because in the bigger picture, you can apply what he said in any field a graduate wants to pursue," said Thea Fernandez, a graduating senior, who majored in health promotion and disease prevention studies.
Along with students receiving their bachelors and masters degrees, the ceremony featured 300 Ph.D. graduates, nearly 150 Discovery Scholars, more than 200 Renaissance Scholars and one Rhodes Scholar.
Valedictorian Julianne Yulan Gale, who graduated with a degree in computer science and theatre, focused on the importance of listening in her speech.
"Being heard can turn anger into empathy and listening with an open mind can lead to change," Gale told the graduates during her commencement speech.
Change through understanding and unity became a common thread in all of the speeches given, including that of Rabbi Susana Laemmle, the dean of Religious Life.
"We must live together as one being," Laemmle said as she asked the crowd to take the hand of the person next to them and ask for God's blessing.
President Steven B. Sample also made an appearance at the podium, describing USC as the dynamic crossroads of the world.
"You came here to grow and to grow up and I hope the university experience has been a fulfilling part of your life," Sample said. "Go on to make significant contributions in your field."
Many students said commencement was an emotional and rewarding moment because their collegiate paths had been so trying.
"It felt so surreal. It felt like it wasn't happening but I knew that the time was here," Fernandez said.
Others said the moment had not yet sunk in.
"It's scary and anticlimatic at the same time. You get so used to be a college student, you think you'll always be a college student. You just don't have a clue what to do next." Schuler said.
Before the anticipated awarding of the degree certificates and the traditional release of the doves, Iger encouraged the graduates to embrace life's experiences.
"Love your life and your time at USC. As the Disney greeting goes, have a magical day," Iger said. "The thrill ride of your lives is ahead of you."