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The Definition of Honor

High-achieving Trojan undergraduates usher in the new school year at the College Honors Society’s initiation banquet

The Definition of Honor

On Tuesday, Aug. 22, some 300 students joined USC College faculty members and administrators to celebrate academic achievement and aspirations at the USC College Honors Society’s inaugural initiation banquet, held at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum.

The College Honors Society was established in October 2005 as an umbrella organization to link and expand the College’s many existing honors programs.

Members of the society are drawn from participants in the early-entrance Resident Honors Program, the general education Thematic Option Honors Program, Freshman Science Honors, the eight-year Baccalaureate/M.D. program and the honors societies of individual departments. Students may also be invited by earning a high G.P.A. or by faculty nomination.

“The key word is ‘community,’ ” said USC College Dean Peter Starr. “We want to create a bridge between our programs. Ideally, students who come into the College as freshmen and sophomores in an honors program will want to go on and do research or departmental honors as seniors. We’re creating a true four-year honors community.”

Before the dinner program commenced amid the dioramas in the North American Mammals Hall, the society’s members and new initiates hobnobbed with old friends or introduced themselves to new acquaintances while wandering the halls of the museum, taking in exhibits and snapping digital photos.

Hilary Schor, professor of English and the College’s dean of undergraduate programs, echoed this sense of community during her comments at the banquet.

“We hope to give you a sense of community and shared enterprise,” said Schor. “It’s the sense that other people have undertaken the same adventure, whether it’s your first day on campus or your last semester before graduation.”

“Our idea is that eventually the intellectual community within this group will radiate out,” said Robin Romans, assistant dean of undergraduate programs. “We want to create a culture in the College of interdisciplinary exchange among students, so that they can connect with each other even though they’re in different fields. This will be a culture where students are interested in doing undergraduate research and interested in departmental honors.”

Romans, director of the College Honors Society, served as the evening’s emcee.

The dean’s remarks articulated a vision of learner-centered education that drives the College’s undergraduate initiatives. A professor of French and comparative literature, Starr has been on the College faculty for more than 20 years.

“We’ve heard you. We know what you’re looking for,” Starr said. “You’re looking for a rich array of opportunities. You want stimulating classes. You want to pursue your own original scholarship and research. You want experiences that will take you out of the classroom and into Los Angeles. You’re interested in identifying people to mentor you. You want to take charge of your education. You want to learn not only from faculty, but also from your fellow students.

“You are precisely the students we had in mind when we created the College Honors Society.”

Honors student Phil Taylor, a senior English major with a minor in photography, has gotten a lot out of the opportunities available at the College.

Taylor participated in the Thematic Option Undergraduate Research Conference his freshman year and, as a sophomore, served on the conference’s selection committee. During his first year at USC, he also led a team of four other undergraduates working with Heather James, a College English professor and an editor of the Norton Anthology of World Literature, on research for the volume. Taylor recently returned from a summer experiential learning project in New York City.

“The opportunities have been incredible,” he said, with a smile. “I would say the College has done me well.”

The welcome event had a celebratory feel.

In closing his remarks, Starr asked the society members for a round of applause in honor of their achievements. Schor’s time at the podium felt like a classroom session sprinkled with humor and questions for her audience. Romans capped the proceedings with a raffle awarding students such prizes as a compendium of Shakespeare’s works, a Starbucks gift card and a lunch meeting at the University Club with Schor.

Schor dedicated the bulk of her comments to an examination of the concept of honor. She acknowledged the achievements of the society members, but expressed even higher expectations for their future.

“We expect you to do well,” said Schor. “To a certain extent we are honoring you — to use a word you may hear in your classes — proleptically. That is, we are already honoring you for things you haven’t done yet. Because we believe in you.

“We know whatever you do,” she continued, “you’ll make us proud. You’ll do it with honor.”