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Head of the Class

Meet USC’s 2008 valedictorian and salutatorians.

Valedictorian Julianne Yulan Gale
Julianne Yulan Gale is living proof that trying to cubbyhole people is a waste of time.

She defies categorization. An academic superstar in computer science, she is also an experienced actress (her starring roles have included Ariel in The Tempest and Anne in The Diary of Anne Frank).

A speech coach and prize-winning orator with more than 150 trophies on her mantle, she spent nearly three years working in tech support for USC TrojanHousing. An edgy filmmaker and performance artist, she’s also an innovative, nurturing fourth-grade science teacher.

The Class of 2008 valedictorian recognizes and clearly revels in the many facets and seeming contradictions of her personality. “An American-Chinese Jew, a lifelong learning teacher” is how she described herself in the essay that recently helped clinch a prestigious 2008 Renaissance Scholar Prize. “I live,” she wrote in that essay, “not in many separate places but in an entirely new place — a place of deep connections and interdisciplinary collaboration.”

Gale studies Mandarin Chinese and the programming language C++. Her stage combat skills include swords and daggers, quarterstaff and hand-to-hand. She speaks Spanish and excels at contact improvisation — a style of dancing that involves maintaining a constant, rolling contact point between two or more artists.

A couple of months ago at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s spring art festival, she shared the top creative prize with her documentary, Who Am I? Trans Identity in Los Angeles.

The film explored the lives of five transgender Angelenos and won an interdisciplinary award at the 2005 Undergraduate Symposium for Scholarly and Creative Work. Gale, who formerly headed a group called Gay and Straight People, won a prize for “most gutsy performance” in a USC Viterbi talent show last fall with a monologue titled “Why Is Lennon Wearing a Skirt?”

With her 3.99 GPA, Gale could have gone to the graduate school of her choice, studying any subject she liked. She is working on her teaching credential instead.

“I’m really interested in teaching for social justice and social change,” said Gale, an ardent admirer of the liberation pedagogy of Brazilian education theorist Paulo Freire and Augusto Boal of the Theatre of the Oppressed.

In addition to her major in computer science/engineering and her two minors in general theatre and theatre education, Gale — who is a fifth-year senior — is working on a master’s in teaching through the USC Rossier School of Education. (She’ll complete the program in 2009, at which point Gale said she will look for a teaching job, preferably in an inner-city setting in the San Francisco area or on the East Coast.)

Even without the credential, she’s already a teacher. Working through STAR Education Inc., a Culver City-based company, Gale currently teaches science at the Marquez Charter Elementary School in Pacific Palisades.

“I’ve put on plays with my kids. I’ve sung songs with them. Whatever excites them, I use that as a hook, or an entryway, into the material they should learn.”

Teaching hasn’t been easy. “I never realized how much more work it is to be a teacher than to be a student,” Gale confessed. “There’s no rest for the teacher. I teach four classes a day, three days a week. You’re on, on, on the whole time. You can’t have a bad day, can’t be sick.”

She draws inspiration from USC teachers who have “most deeply shaped me” — Michael Crowley from computer science, Brent Blair from theatre, Allen Rucker from cinematic arts and Gene Bickers from the College’s physics and astronomy department.

Raised in Dedham, Mass., Gale attended the prestigious Milton Academy from kindergarten through 12th grade.

“My whole life I’ve known that I wanted to do something right brain and something left brain,” she said, crediting much of her success to her parents, both physician administrators in Boston.

“I honestly believe that I have the best parents in the world,” she said, “and when I have kids — and I do want to have kids — I want to raise them the way I was raised. They shaped me, taught me to question, to respect, to think.”

Salutatorian Andrew Horning
For Andrew Horning, the sky’s the limit. There’s seemingly nothing that daunts this chemistry major and comparative literature minor in USC College, who will graduate with a 4.0 grade point average and the rank of salutatorian at USC’s 2008 commencement.

“I’m thinking about skydiving in my cap and gown,” said Horning, with a gleam in his eye.

It wouldn’t be the first time he took to the sky. Horning is a licensed pro, with 85 jumps to his credit. He owns a parachute and folds it himself before each jump. The lean and wiry Trojan is also a long-distance runner, pounding out an average of 40 miles a week.

Growing up on bucolic Whidbey Island, Wash., Horning always has succeeded at whatever he set his mind to do. So after treating himself to a skydiving lesson for his 19th birthday, he didn’t hesitate to turn the exhilarating experience into a serious pursuit.

He jumps every other weekend now. In March he cajoled College physics professor Gene Bickers — known for walking on hot coals and lying on a bed of nails to make a scientific point — to jump with him, though the fearless professor had vowed “this is the one thing I said I would never do.”

Horning is not your typical science geek. He excels in both science and the humanities. An alumnus of USC College’s prestigious two-year Thematic Option honors general education curriculum as well as its Freshman Science Honors Program, he is proficient in Spanish with a good reading knowledge of Italian, and a smidgeon of Latin and ancient Greek.

This year, he won a $1,000 first prize in the Undergraduate Writers’ Conference for his analytical essay comparing a popular linear equation, the 1934 Lineweaver-Burk plot, with the linearity of “Il Pleut” (“Rain”), an almost-vertical poem by French symbolist Guillaume Apollinaire. The year before, Horning won top honors in the comparative literature department’s upper-division essay contest for his paper on the figure of the selva oscura (obscure forest) in Dante’s Commedia.

“I’ve become very interested in the interplay between science and the humanities — how you can look at a scientific problem from the humanities perspective and vice versa,” he said.

Horning has won more than his fair share of science awards. He nabbed first prize in the science, math and engineering category of the 2007 USC Undergraduate Symposium for Scholarly and Creative Work. His project: recreating the natural process of photosynthesis using artificial molecules fabricated from carbon-based polymers and using these to study the relationship between molecular geometry and energy transfer.

Active in the research lab of chemistry professor Stephen Bradforth for three years, Horning has made important contributions to Bradforth’s Ultrafast Laser Spectroscopy group. For example, he single-handedly rebuilt, realigned and recalibrated a $200,000 fluorimeter. And he designed and optimized a novel apparatus for measuring chemical reaction dynamics at liquid/vapor interfaces using second harmonic generation.

His community efforts include reviving the neglected Trojan Chemistry Club, serving as its president for the past three years and working as an undergraduate teaching assistant in the honors general chemistry course.

The son of a career Navy officer-turned-commercial pilot and a pediatric emergency physician, Horning leaves USC with a number of other kudos to his credit: a prestigious Phi Kappa Phi National Graduate Fellowship; one of 10 coveted USC Renaissance Scholars Prizes (worth $10,000 each); and the University Trustees Award, recognizing the graduating senior male student with the highest cumulative GPA.

Horning will enter the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall as a doctoral student in chemistry, focusing on biophysics. He’s already checked out the skydiving club there — which, he is happy to report, gets airborne regularly.

Salutatorian Reed Doucette
When you are crowned “Mr. USC” by exclusive undergraduate organization the Order of the Torch, have been a Division I basketball player for four years, earned a GPA in the stratosphere from two schools, USC Viterbi and USC Marshall, and are — oh yes — only the ninth Trojan in history to be named a Rhodes Scholar for graduate study at the University of Oxford, that’s a lot of accolades to carry around.

But Reed Doucette, a cheerful and even-keeled fifth-year senior from Acampo, Calif., wears his many honors lightly, including being one of USC’s salutatorians for 2008.

In other words, he’s a genuinely nice guy. He’s focused, but not humorless. (His frequent megawatt smile is one tipoff.) He’s busy, but gives no hint of grimly slogging on an overachiever’s treadmill.

This is a guy who uses time-management skills to the max. Take the week before finals. This was his toughest semester at USC, Doucette confided: He had three finals to prepare for and a project or two, including a big group project for the legendary leadership class taught by USC President Steven B. Sample and management guru Warren Bennis.

He still found time to take part in USC’s “fountain run,” the end-of-the-year, late-night mass romp from campus fountain to fountain. Finishing at midnight, he parked himself in the computer lab at King Hall until 3:30 a.m., knocking out a control systems report for an engineering class.

“That was brutal,” he said with a grin, looking happy and reinvigorated the next day.

It’s difficult to get him to comment on his unusual success. When pressed, he is modest. “I’m pretty good at seeing where I want to go and working toward it,” he finally said. “I want to put myself into position to take advantage of opportunities. As they say, luck is where preparation meets opportunity.”

He’d rather talk about his friends, family, coaches and professors who helped him along the way. For the Rhodes Scholarship, he needed six USC nominators. He ticks them off easily: men’s basketball coach Tim Floyd, mechanical engineering professor Geoff Spedding, physics professor Doug Burke, former USC statistics professor Catherine Sugar, mechanical engineering professor Andrea Hodge (who was his mentor at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory) and mechanical engineering professor Marijan Dravinski. He also mentions USC Annenberg professor Bryce Nelson, himself a former Rhodes Scholar, who heads USC’s international fellowship committee.

“I’ve asked for their advice all along, on academics and for life advice as well. After my parents, they were the first ones I called when I heard about the Rhodes,” he said.

His parents, Tom and Barbara, and sister Lauren, who just finished her junior year at the USC Marshall School of Business, should have plenty of time to visit during the three years he will be earning a doctorate in Oxford’s Electrical Power Group, where he will learn about renewable energy, energy conservation and solar cells.

Cecil Rhodes, the namesake of the scholarship, was keen on athletics, and the 6’5” Doucette plans to pack his basketball and his tennis racket. He would love to find room for his golf clubs so he and his dad can play the Old Course at St. Andrews. He’d like to learn to play cricket, go punting (boating) and generally “soak up” all the experiences the United Kingdom has to offer.

This summer he’d like to sign on with an energy start-up company or expand his work with Los Angeles Community Impact, where USC students consult with nonprofits on business plans and marketing.

“There are a lot of options for making the world a better place,” he said.

He has one other goal this summer. By the time he goes to England, Doucette wants to be able to play the Earl Scruggs’ finger-flying classic, “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” on the banjo. He’s bringing along his banjo, too.