The power of a first impression

My USC Story: first-year student

USC freshman Carlos Lao poses for a photograph for My USC story, September 11, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Gus Ruelas)

Carlos Lao lived in Shanghai his entire life but considers Manila, Philippines, a close second to “home.” The freshman double major in computer science and business administration says wherever he ends up after at USC, he knows it will involve giving back and helping others.

Why did you choose USC?

Among the many reasons to want to join the Trojan Family, I chose USC based on a first impression. Now, this may sound incredibly unreasonable but hear me out. When I first visited, there was a palpable warmth that radiated from the students. They were unapologetically happy to be there and being in their mere presence left me captivated. I know that people shouldn’t make decisions based on face-value judgments, but USC’s a rare case where the book is even better than the cover.

What did you do when you first found out you got into USC?

Since I lived on the other side of the world, I woke up and, while still in a transient state between consciousness and sleep, checked my phone to find a notification that my admission decision was ready to be viewed. Amidst the inevitable stress of senior year, I was definitely not in my best headspace. However, upon finding out that I had gotten in I, quite literally, jumped out of my bed and burst into my mom’s room where I proceeded to scream “I GOT INTO USC!” while jumping up and down like an overexcited fangirl. Quite inglorious, but nevertheless sincere.

What are you most excited to learn/do/experience while at USC?

While I could easily go on about how excited I am to be studying my major on a deeper level or pursuing my hobbies through USC’s vast array of clubs and organizations, what I am excited for is less what you can do, and more what you can feel. I’ve heard many stories about how “the Trojan Family is real” and the unparalleled sense of camaraderie that is unseen, yet present, among the students and staff at USC. I’m incredibly thrilled to be a Trojan and explore what the “family” really has to offer. I’m excited for the raging school spirit on game days; the competitive yet supportive environment where students push each other excel; and, most of all, the lifelong friendships that I will make.

What is one thing you will bring with you to USC that means the most to you?

I am planning on bringing a small model of a Filipino Jeepney with me to my dorm. Having grown up in China going to an International American school, my life has always consisted of a seemingly incoherent amalgam of cultures. However, thanks to my upbringing, Filipino culture has always remained the one constant in a sea of variation. Bringing the Jeepney embodies the home and family that I take with me wherever I go—something to remind me where I’ve been while I explore new chapters of my life.

What piece of advice about starting college do you think you’ll follow?

Try everything. I’ve never been the type to stick to one interest and be content with staying in the bubble of my comfort, and so this particularly resonated with me. Throughout my life, I’ve always juggled multiple interests, and now I know I don’t have to stop in college. Even though to me, it seemed that the delineation between what we want to do and what we will do seems cut and dried as of the moment we select our major, this could not be further from the truth. College, like any other endeavor in life, is about discovering the breadth of your own capabilities. It’s not as simple as following the yellow brick road or even a matter of choosing between two roads diverged in a yellow wood; our capabilities comprise a jungle that begs to be explored. Now, that’s exactly what I intend on doing. 

What do you think/hope you’ll be like four years from now?

It’s difficult for me to see myself doing any one particular thing, much less years from now. Nevertheless, I hope that whatever I do choose to pursue has an impact that stretches far beyond my immediate vicinity. Growing up, I was always taught to give back. It wasn’t a matter of balancing my good karma or expecting something in return, it was simply a natural method of interaction for my family. My mom grew up in a much less fortunate state than I am, and she constantly told me how the things that she does for others are simply an embodiment of the empathy she wishes she was shown more often when she was younger. I distinctly remember how my mom used to sit outside the gate of her disheveled childhood home handing out small bills to the children of her shantytown as Christmas approached. Though I doubt I could ever live up to a modern-day heroine like my mom, the lessons she taught me growing up have shaped my future aspirations. Whether it’s helping one person or one billion people, I hope that whatever I do in the future leaves someone better off at no one’s expense.

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