A graduating student raises both arms and holds a beachball in celebration.

SDA Celebrates the Class of 2024

On May 10, the USC School of Dramatic Arts celebrated the graduating class of 2024. Photo by Reza Allah-Bakhshi/Capture Imaging.

“This is the time when actors, writers and storytellers of all kinds get to do their real work. Your imagination, and the ability to articulate it in the roles you’ll play, the scripts you’ll write, the theatrical worlds you’ll design and build—this imagination and your ability to wield it is your superpower, both onstage and off.”

Commencement Speaker Dr. Anthony Sparks—teacher, writer, actor and showrunner of the Oprah Winfrey/Ava DuVernay hit drama Queen Sugar, as well as a proud Triple Trojan—set the tone for a joyous day of festivities and celebrations, as the Trojan Family came together to celebrate the mighty USC School of Dramatic Arts Class of 2024 during two ceremonies on May 10.

Dr. Sparks spoke with passion about the ups and downs of his own career, interweaving his “seven takeaways”—his essential pieces of advice for the graduating class—and reminded the graduates of the importance of imagination and creativity, especially during challenging times.

Graduating students laugh and clap at the Commencement ceremony in full regalia.
The Class of 2024 was honored in two ceremonies at the Bing Theatre. Photo by Reza Allah-Bakhshi/Capture Imaging.

The power of storytelling was a frequent touchstone throughout the ceremonies, as  speaker after speaker celebrated the talent, as well as the desire to make the world a better place, that came to define the Class of 2024.

“Theatre is power. Theatre is resilience. Everyone thinks they’re above theatre until they’re in a moment of crisis, of grief, heartbreak, devastation, or even elation,” Joy Jaensubhakij (BA Theatre with an Emphasis in Acting) said. “Theatre provides an outlet for us to know that we are not wandering alone in this world—proof that we are not the first people to have gone through this, and certainly we won’t be the last.”

Commencement speaker Dr. Anthony Sparks (l) and Dean Emily Roxworthy (r). Photo by Reza Allah-Bakhshi/Capture Imaging.

The events featured fond memories, a celebration of community and plenty of hope for the future of a cohort that began their time at USC during the height of the pandemic.

“Today marks a pivotal moment in our lives—or perhaps the pivotal moment in our lives, given the circumstances of our high school journey,” said Renata Finamore (BFA in Sound Design), followed—in an appropriate display of her craft—by a wah-wah sad trombone sound effect. “Witnessing the talent of the people beside me has been nothing short of awe-inspiring. Together we navigated challenges, accomplished triumphs and forged lasting connections.”

Alcides Costa, Jr. (MFA in Acting) continued along the theme of leaning on one’s community during difficult times. Calling out each member of his cohort by name, Costa attributed his accomplishments to those who supported him along the journey.

“I used to think my story was singular. It’s all I ever knew,” Costa admitted. “Now I’m a part of a team. A tribe who all have something uniquely brilliant about them. While it’s essential to remain true to yourself, you need a tribe while continuing to find yourself. As I look around, I know I have the best damn team, tribe and family anyone could ever ask for.”

The Class of 2024 came to be known for their resiliency, talent and drive to make the world a better place. Photo by Reza Allah-Bakhshi/Capture Imaging.

Joseph D. Valdez (MFA in Dramatic Writing), who completed his degree while regularly commuting to USC from central California, mused on the similarities between life on the road and his educational journey.

“In grad school, it’s the gift of community,” he said. “The solidarity, the tears, the smiles, the act of creating together. Your road may be different from my road, and you will reach your peaks and drive through your storms. But I encourage you, as you navigate your road, to remind yourself as much as you can of why you do the things you do.”

Both ceremonies were followed by lively and joyful receptions in Queens Courtyard, where graduates got to share memories with their friends, faculty and family members, as well as look toward the future together with their fellow graduates. Through laughter and tears, each student reflected on the community that they made while in school, the skills they learned in their classes and performances, and the valuable experiences they will take with them as they go on to pursue their dreams outside of the university.

The remarkable Class of 2024 leaves USC with a one-of-a-kind legacy—and they always have their Trojan Family waiting to pick them up in times of need.

“You are Trojans. You are artists. You are Trojan artists of the School of Dramatic Arts,” Dr. Sparks reminded students as they prepared to receive their degrees. “Which means that you are well equipped to fight on, and not just fight on, but to fight on with style and imagination.”

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