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Valedictorian With a Sense of Social Justice

Valedictorian With a Sense of Social Justice

USC College’s Katherine Trefz, a double major in history and political science, shines in academics, leadership and service. As the 2005 valedictorian, she will speak at USC’s 122nd commencement ceremony.

By Christine Shade
May 2005

USC College senior Katherine A. Trefz has been described as scholarly, quietly intense and ambitious. She also has a solid sense of social justice and a plan for the future.

Being chosen USC’s 2005 valedictorian “is an incredible capstone moment for my college experience,” she says.

“I am absolutely honored and surprised to be named valedictorian,” says Trefz, who turns 22 in June. “I have truly loved my time at USC, and I’m a changed person in so many aspects of life because of my experiences here.”

Trefz will graduate with a 4.0 GPA while carrying a double major; she’ll receive a B.A. in history and a B.A. in political science from USC College. She also has an impressive background as a campus leader, volunteer, tutor and a mentor to other students both at USC and in the neighborhood.

She will speak to her fellow graduates May 13 at USC’s 122nd commencement in Alumni Park.

“The theme is that we need to have a burden and an opportunity to be a student of life and to have a life of service,“ she says. “I think it’s reflective of a lot of values at USC. You can define service however you will, but it’s a need to make things better.”

Trefz grew up in Irvine, with her parents and younger sister, who is currently a USC sophomore majoring in business.

Although her parents are not USC graduates, she can count as Trojans an uncle (’82), two grandparents (’39) and a great-uncle who graduated in 1899.

She attributes her value system to her parents, from whom she learned solid work ethics “by having to prove yourself before expecting to just get something. It’s the opposite of entitlement.”

Trefz says one of her professors made the wise comment that she was most inspired by people who changed her way of thinking so that she'll never look at life quite the same way again.

Trefz had that experience last spring when she was in the high-profile class “The Art and Adventure of Leadership,” taught by USC President Steven B. Sample and Distinguished University Professor of Business Warren Bennis.

“Dr. Bennis did that for me,” she says, “and he continues to do it, both formally through his writing, and informally, through his being.”

Her A grade in the course and her remarkable gifts in writing and organization, Bennis says, earned her the course assistant position this year.

Trefz says she’s been inspired by Bennis’ leadership theory that “centers on the idea of knowing yourself and employing your vision in the best way possible.” He asks you to look within as you seek to create change outwardly. “The concept is self-empowering but not selfish,” she says, “a hard balance to strike.”

“She has a remarkable combination of gifts,” Bennis says, “in the widest sense of being a human being. She has a brilliant mind.”

Bennis says that with her abilities, Trefz will be a winner at anything she attempts.

Terry Seip, associate professor of history in USC College, had Trefz in three upper division classes.

“Katie ranks with the very best students I have had in 30 years,” Seip says. “She is just exceptional on all counts. The faculty in history and political science are pleased that one of our own has received this signal honor.”

Trefz earned a USC Presidential Scholarship, a Town and Gown Scholarship and was a National Merit Scholar.She’s a member of the National Honor Society, Phi Beta Kappa, the All-University Honor Society, Phi Kappa Phi, the Leadership Honor Society, Omicron Delta Kappa and the History Honor Society, Phi Alpha Theta.

In addition to her many academic honors, Trefz has built an impressive record of leadership and service, working for years in the elementary schools surrounding USC and as a tutor in Student Athlete Academic Services.

In 2004, she was a founding member of the Los Angeles Leadership Initiative, which organized a retreat in Sacramento for nine high-achieving secondary students from at-risk Los Angeles high schools.

She was director of communications, auction organizer and co-executive director of Troy Camp, USC’s oldest student-run community outreach program, which is aimed at local third-, fourth- and fifth-graders.

During her freshman and sophomore years, Trefz also was a member of the USC Women’s Swim Team.

In March, she received a “Remarkable Woman Award” presented by the Office of Campus Activities and the Women’s Student Assembly, as well as the Josephine Bradley Bovard Award for scholarly achievements and leadership at USC’s 2005 Academic Convocation Awards ceremony.

Trefz said she chose USC College for a number of reasons—the scholarships, reputation, location and size, to name a few. But the determining factor, she says, was how these individual aspects worked together to create USC’s unique atmosphere—“that mix of pride, knowledge, passion, service and loyalty you feel on campus.”

With her keen sense of social justice, Trefz has her sights set on a career in public interest law, which she will pursue at UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall.

“There’s a great need for social justice in the inner cities,” Trefz says, who has interned at the Orange County Public Defender’s office and at an entertainment law firm. “In the work I’ve done with Troy Camp, I see what a little bit of attention can do.”