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Life as a University of Southern California Trojan On and Off the Stage

December 13, 2013

by Ryan McRee (Dublin High School Class of 2013 graduate and University of Southern California freshman)

Ryan McRee Commencement Speech

Ryan McRee Dublin High Commencement Speech

If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last year, it’s that unexpected things happen. Life takes surprising twists and turns, but if you’re up for the ride, change can be an incredible enhancement to life. I never could have anticipated that I would end up at the University of Southern California. In fact, if I had tried to tell anyone that a year ago, I would have been met with indignation and shock.

You see, I come from a Berkeley family.

My parents met at Cal. They both got business degrees from Cal. My uncle has a degree in computer science from the school and my brother just graduated from Berkeley in 2013, now working for the athletic department. I was raised as a Bears fan, spending many weekends in Berkeley decked out in blue and gold rooting for the football team. I’ve hissed at the USC marching band, and gone home in a mild depression after being defeated by the Trojans. (It happened quite a lot.) But now I’m a proud member of the Trojan family, and so are my parents, though they admit the fact with great reluctance.

This was never the plan from the start. Out of the nine universities I applied to, USC was among those at the bottom of the list (along with Berkeley, incidentally; I really needed a change of pace). In fact, I almost didn’t apply. I remember one afternoon I was stressing out about college applications and I took a look at the USC Supplement for the Common App, which, with all of the other things I had to do at the time, sent me over the edge. I wanted a way out of the massive amount of work I had to do. I casually strolled into the kitchen and remarked to my mom that maybe I wouldn’t apply to USC after all. She encouraged me to still do it, remarking that it couldn’t hurt. She was certainly right; it was a decision that changed my life.

SDA Class of 2017

SDA Class of 2017

I applied by the December 1st scholarship deadline, knowing that USC had a reputation for giving out merit-based scholarships, something that few of the other schools I was applying to would offer. They promised a quick response if they demonstrated initial interest and, sure enough, I heard back in mid-January, before any other school I applied to. I remember standing in my grandparents’ kitchen, opening an email from the school and trying not to panic as my phone downloaded the attachment. I had been accepted to the school. I was ecstatic, even though I didn’t initially express much interest in the school, simply because it was the first of my college acceptances. My excitement turned to utter shock when I kept reading.

“You are under consideration for a full-tuition scholarship.”

I was dumbstruck. I rushed into the next room and could barely get the words out to my parents. Apparently I was invited to attend one of many Explore USC programs on-campus, during which I would attend many informational sessions, take tours of the school, speak to administrative faculty from the School of Dramatic Arts, spend the night in one of the freshman dorms with a student host to show me around and stay with, and, finally, be interviewed as part of my scholarship consideration. The program was absolutely incredible, and it was an amazing way for my parents and I to learn more about the school. They were so impressed with the level of effort and care that went into the program that they felt their former bias starting to fade away.

I ended up getting the scholarship, which was obviously a factor in the decision-making process (and quite a significant one, at that), but after my Explore program both my parents and I felt that USC was a place where I would be happy. Once I heard back from all my schools, it came down to USC and two other options I was really interested in as well, but in the end I chose to be a Trojan. I accepted my offer of admission to the school, and my parents surprised me with a box of Trojan gear and memorabilia.

As a Trustee Scholar, I was also invited to apply for Thematic Option, an honors general education program that features interdisciplinary classes based on “themes.” All of the courses are based on universal concepts to be explored with a strong emphasis on reading and writing, featuring small writing workshops with one-on-one tutorials with writing professors. As a prospective writer and someone who cares deeply about academic and intellectual exploration, the program sounded perfect for me, and I applied with little hesitation.

Summer orientation was a really fun experience. There were a lot of spirit rallies in which the various traditions of the Trojan experience were introduced, more academic and extra-curricular seminars that explained all of the opportunities that the school offered, and personal meetings with academic advisors to figure out our fall schedules. I developed a special bond with my advisor, who I really felt cared about me and was devoted to my individual needs as a student, and we keep up regular communication. We recently developed a four-year plan for my coursework to plan out how I could take all of the classes I wanted to take, and the counseling department has only proven to be extremely devoted to my academic needs.

I moved into my residence hall in the fall—Parkside Arts and Humanities—where I had elected to live on a theatre and dance floor. While not everyone there had selected the floor because it was a “special interest floor”, six out of eight guys in my suite turned out to be theatre students, so it worked out quite well for me.

Macbeth Rehearsal

Macbeth Rehearsal

While USC is known as being a big sports school, the arts are alive and well and are a very active presence on campus. In addition to a full season of shows put on by the School of Dramatic Arts (about 8-10 a semester), there are dozens of independent student productions (known as “ISPs” by students) that occur. These student productions are put on by independent student directors who apply for grants from the School of Dramatic Arts or are produced by student production companies, organizations of students that are dedicated to producing several shows a year that handle all aspects of production and marketing independently from the SDA.

Merrily Rehearsal

Merrily Rehearsal

The amount of work put up by theatre students is astounding. On weekends it’s often not a question of whether or not I will see a show but how many I’ll see. I would say there’s an average of 3-4 productions opening on any given weekend, and often it’s a challenge to see all of the shows that you want to see. There’s also a consistent demand for actors from the famous School of Cinematic Arts, and through social networking there’s a lot of collaboration that goes on between theatre and film students. There’s always something to audition for, which makes being an artist at USC a constantly engaging and exciting experience.

USC Macbeth Cast

USC Macbeth Cast

In my first semester I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of two ISPs and one film project, and it has certainly been a rewarding experience. My first play, Macbeth, was put on by an independent student director and I had the opportunity to be both an actor and the sound designer for the production. After my experience in the Dublin High School Drama department working simultaneously on multiple aspects of a production, this was a familiar challenge to me. The day after Macbeth closed I began rehearsals for Merrily We Roll Along, a musical by Stephen Sondheim that is being produced by Musical Theatre Repertory, a student production company that puts on three musicals a year. The show has proved to be an immense challenge and has required much hard work and dedication, requiring twenty-eight hours of rehearsal a week on top of my 18-unit academic schedule, but it has already proved to be a rewarding one. Merrily opens on January 23rd for a run of seven shows, and I’m very excited to be a part of such a devoted and talented cast.

USC Spirit

USC Spirit

Although I’ve been busy with theatre, it’s hard to escape the pervasive atmosphere of competition and school spirit that radiates everywhere on the USC campus. I went to most of the home football games, which are always a very fun experience, and my friends and I have always gotten pumped up whenever a game day rolled around. Football is huge at USC, and even though we haven’t had as good of a season as we’ve had in the past, the Trojan Family is still supportive. The several days following our miraculous victory against Stanford saw a bright, enthusiastic campus with a noticeably elevated spirit.

Over the last several months, USC and Los Angeles have truly become my home. The academic, artistic, and social community at USC has welcomed me with open arms, and I love the family that I’ve found here. The classes are everything that I could have asked for with consistent intellectual and creative challenges, and the opportunities in theatre and film are to die for. As I said before, I never expected that I would end up at USC, but looking back I realize that sending in that application was probably the best decision I’ve ever made.

At the Dublin High School 2013 Senior Awards Night Ryan McRee was a Dublin Lions Club Student of the Month (January), earned a University of Southern California scholarship, was awarded a GAEL Achievement Award for Dramatic Arts (with Emily Morehead), was named a California Scholarship Federation Life Member, earned a Gael Scholar and President’s Gold Award for Education Excellence and earned Dublin High School’s Advanced Scholar Diploma.

Other articles in the Life in College series:

  1. irene padnos permalink
    December 13, 2013 8:41 am

    Great article!! Bravo Ryan!! We are all very proud of you. 🙂


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