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Beyond False Peaks

Jonas Salk, the legendary scientist who developed the first successful polio vaccine, said, “Hope lies in dreams, in imagination and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality.”

In 1952, the year of the worst polio outbreak in United States history, the extremely high likelihood of succumbing to the disease was viewed as “reality.” Salk refused to accept that, choosing instead to forge his own story. Now polio has been nearly eradicated from the globe.

I imagine reality as an infinite puzzle — one that we continually create even as we work to solve it. Our humanity drives us to put the pieces together in a way that makes sense and leads to more answers, but ultimately we know there is no single solution.

We are learning more and more that this puzzle is anything but one-dimensional. What makes USC Dornsife unique is our determination not just to understand the contours of our individual pieces, but also to seek out those whose pieces might interlock precisely with our own. A linguistics professor collaborates with a marine biologist to understand speech disorders associated with Parkinson’s disease. A physicist reaches out to a USC Viterbi colleague to improve screening for diabetic retinopathy, a leading cause of blindness. Through partnerships such as these we uncover potential new solutions that may lead to better realities.

Dedicating oneself to scholarship means embarking on a lifelong journey to discern what is true — what is real. Every crest we encounter is another false peak on the climb to a summit we know we will never reach. But we keep climbing — because along the way there are so many smaller discoveries, each with the power to change our shared reality, improving quality of life for all.

Steve Kay
Dean of USC Dornsife
Anna H. Bing Dean’s Chair