Huffpost Los Angeles
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Mary Ellen Jebbia Headshot

Graduates, Put Your Beliefs Into Action

Posted: Updated:

Everyone remembers Homer's Troy as the society the Greeks fooled into accepting the Trojan Horse -- the gift that ultimately led to their demise. Yet, many fail to remember these same Trojans, led by Aeneus, went on to found the great city of Rome, perhaps the most influential empire in the history of civilizations. The ancient Trojans of Homer's Iliad remind me of the accomplished Trojans seated here this evening. Each one of us has experienced failure just like the Trojans, yet each of us has marched on to found our own Rome.

When I was 14, I chose to leave everything I knew and attend a boarding school 3,000 miles from my home in Southern California. My father describes my face the moment he waved goodbye to me as a "terrified deer in headlights." Why would I choose this path if it was so hard? I could have chosen to attend a school 15 minutes from my house, where many of my friends would be. But on the day I had to make my decision, an admissions officer told me, "If you choose to go where you feel completely comfortable ... you are making the wrong decision."

Throughout my time here at USC, I have met intelligent, passionate, driven students and professors who have pushed me to explore diverse fields. As a triple major, I studied religion and archeology, alongside Japanese literature mixed with Finance, Marketing and Entrepreneurship. Through all this scholarship, I have learned: when faced with a choice, choose the hard path. It sounds ridiculous. Why should we choose to do something more difficult, put forth more effort, and ultimately increase our chance of failure?

My first year at USC, a friend invited me to a weekly meeting of the Latino Business Student Association. Not being Latina, I scoffed. Why would a Latino group want me to join? I tagged along, feeling silly. Yet, no one asked me why I was there, they only asked me to come back. In fact, the following semester I ran for a position on the Executive Board, and I won. I easily could have shied away from something unfamiliar, but chose instead to challenge myself. I reaped the reward -- now and forever, some of my closest friends are those I met in nuestra familia. Las comadres will always support each other in our life endeavors, and hopefully always make it to the weekender.

A year after joining LBSA, my life changed again. Upon hearing of my interest in religion, Dean of Religious Life Varun Soni recommended I join the Interfaith Council at USC. I had no idea what that meant. At that point I felt very insecure in my spirituality -- I had so many questions! But the Interfaith Council had more than answers; they had intellect, spunk, a little bit of quirkiness -- and they had faith. This faith wasn't in a particular religion or spiritual tradition, but it was faith that not knowing all the answers was a good thing. They challenged themselves to take spiritual journeys and quests, to wrestle with life's big questions. The council members pushed others to think about what mattered to them, and to act on it. This group challenges me every single day to put my beliefs into action. We have created and sustained unbelievable service projects and relationships. Last May, the council made one of my dreams come true, bringing His Holiness the Dalai Lama to USC. I will probably never find a family so welcoming and so inspiring. This group exemplifies the benefits of choosing the path that is hard, but the one that allows us to grow.

As you can imagine, after joining the council, my life revolved around interfaith work and religious studies. I seized an opportunity after my junior year to spend one year working as a Multifaith Ambassador for the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. I trained in London, Chicago and Malawi to learn community organizing and advocacy skills. Most importantly, I utilized my interfaith values to mobilize other people of faith to fight global poverty. The choice to leave USC for a year was not easy at all. My parents worried I would lose focus in my studies, and secretly I worried I would find so much passion in my work, I might not return. I took on the challenge: Multifaith advocacy was something I wanted to bring back to USC. That year, I met more than 2,000 people willing to take part in our campaign. My colleague and I raised almost $10,000 for a charity in Mali that empowers women to become community health workers. Most importantly, I realized how much I missed the ability I had as a student to bridge my scholarly pursuits in religion with my passion for Interfaith work.

We hear so much about the Trojan Family and the benefits it offers. None of us needs to be "sold" on it. I realized after my year away from USC the reason this family exists is because we Trojans are not only intelligent, we are activists. We take our passions in the classroom and put them into action trying to make a difference in the larger community. Professors I met during my time at USC have taken their expertise and, with the help of students, have created education programs like ArcSmart (teaching archeology to local 6th grade students) and TIRP (teaching international relations in local middle and high schools). These professors had no obligation to do this, but they, like all of us, took on the challenge because they perceived the reward.

Trojans, we have a duty now. We may not realize it, but choosing to attend USC was taking on a huge challenge. We could have avoided student loans and late study nights at Leavey, but we all had faith that the hard work would lead us to victory. We have realized the benefits. Now, we must choose to take on new challenges. Wherever our journeys take us, we must continue the act of using our passion and expertise to create a better world. The great Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead once sang, "When life looks like Easy Street, there is danger at your door." I urge us to take the difficult street, and to reap the reward. To Fight On, no matter what.