The Life of a USC Graduate Film School Student

Page 1 of 2

Posted: 01aug2000

Lights! camera! action! .. at USC Film school

Fade up & zoom in.

At age 40, after raising two children to their high school years, and completing 
her undergraduate work,
Wendy began graduate studies at the USC school of 
Film & Television Production
- arguably the finest Film school in the world. 

One book we read refers to USC as the granddaddy of Film schools, with 
Cinematography classes dating to 1929 .. before the Great Depression.

Wendy began the 3-year program in January .. mere days after the world 
ushered in a promising new millennium, amid much joy and celebration. All 
things seemed new & hopeful the day she started school. But things had 
not always been so cheery. 


Wendy's dad, Chuck, a graduate of USC himself (dentist), passed away just 
as she began her senior year as an undergrad. Her dad died of prostate cancer 
at age 64. 

Although ugly & protracted, at least his death came as no surprise. The family 
had plenty of time to prepare. But only months later, during the very same 
semester, Wendy's brother, Van, also died. Unlike her father tho, Van died 
suddenly and unexpectedly. 

Still grieving the loss of her father, the loss of her big brother, her childhood 
protector, proved disorienting.

Van was only 42 when he died. At the time, Wendy was not only busy finishing 
her senior year at USC, but also working toward completing the requirements for 
the application to grad school. 

The sudden loss of her brother, coming so soon on the heels of her dad's protracted 
death, was too much for her. At a time when most people are feeling best about 
themselves & their future, Wendy began to see life in a pall of futility. Her plans 
to complete the application for grad school seemed pointless.

Suspicious circumstances surrounding her brother's death only made matters 
worse. As the shock & denial wore off, cruel reality set it and Wendy's health 
began to suffer. 

With no time to grieve, due to the demands of her senior year, and the application 
for grad school, she fell ill. It wasn't long before she was unable to get out of bed. 
Everyone became concerned as her health grew progressively worse. 


After missing the first 2 weeks of classes in bed with the flu, double pneumonia, 
& God knows what else, Wendy began the final semester of her senior year with 
fashionably dark circles under her eyes, and lungs full of what sounded like Elmer's 

One thing that kept her on track for grad school was that four of her professors 
(Lisa, Lloyd, Drew & Tara) & several close friends (Jan, Joan, Kathy & Karen) had 
written & sent glowing letters of recommendation to accompany her application. 

Each time she was tempted to pull the plug, she'd come back to, ".. but all those 
letters have already been sent." She didn't want to negate the efforts of those 
who'd gone out of their way to vouch for her. 

To this very day, she works a bit harder in grad school, as her way of saying 
'thanks' to those who went to bat for her, and to keep the path to grad school 
open for other Critical Studies graduates. 


With the aid of many bowls of industrial-strength chicken soup and colorful capsules 
of designer penicillin, she was gradually nursed back to health. Not only did she 
complete the requirements of the application process on time, but also graduated 
Magna Cum Laude
(minimum GPA of 3.7). 

Much shouting & celebration was heard throughout the house that day when the 
mailman delivered the
acceptance letter from the Graduate Admissions department. 
Perhaps you can understand her first quip when she got the letter, "No one is 
allowed to die until I finish grad school." 

Somewhere in all that, she managed to play mom to both Lani & Jahmar. Both kids 
were there that Friday afternoon in May at the
Shrine Auditorium to watch mom 
walk across the platform. When they called her name, you could hear them yelling, 
"Yeah, mom!"


The graduation ceremony was the most dramatic I'd ever attended (most are 
boring). A private company arrived early and set up $35 million worth of High-
Definition TV equipment.
Dean Daley said that this was the first graduation
ever recorded in Hi-Def. 

Two huge screens were mounted above the stage, one on either side. Cameras 
and cameramen were everywhere. Two men manned large, pivoting, sit-down 
cameras. The image quality was impressive.

The ceremony began with the THX soundtrack intro. If you've ever been in a 
THX-equipped movie theater, you know how dramatic this can be. If you haven't 
heard the THX intro, I posted a copy of it
here (236kb @160kbps, thx to Dave 

The Shrine Auditorium has a powerful sound system. When they played the THX 
intro, the seats literally vibrate. Soon as it was done, somebody shouted in an 
excited voice, "Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the 1999 graduating class 
for the University of Southern California's School of Cinema-Television.

The audience went wild as students began filing in from the rear entrances. 
Graduate Production students were introduced by a lady who spoke with the 
most eloquent British accent I've ever heard.


Despite the joyous occasion, a note of sadness hung in the air. Neither her father, 
nor her brother, both huge USC fans, could be there to see their daughter/sister 
graduate .. at least not in the flesh. 

It was Wendy's dad who, years earlier, was the one who originally planted the 
seed that she apply to USC. Everyday, on her way to school, she still drives by 
street where her brother used to live, and the exit she used to take to visit her 
dad. It makes it hard to forget them.

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Introduction, Part 2 of 2

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