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I grew up in Southern California my whole life. I was born in the city of Orange, lived in Pasadena, Glendora, Redlands, Mission Viejo, Irvine, and San Diego. And ironically, I never heard of USC until my senior year of high school. How did I escape the influence of the Trojan family for so long? Beats me.

I only found out about USC when I was applying for a Questbridge scholarship and the way it works is that they partner with only certain schools. I was browsing the list of universities and came across “University of Southern California.” I thought “Hey, why not apply there? After all, I am a Southern Californian.” Thus began the beginning of the next 4 years of my life.

As I did more research into the school I realized there was a lot more that appealed to me besides just the name. The campus was beautiful, the program I wanted to study was so unique and interesting, and I hadn’t lived in LA county since I was 7 so why not go back as an adult?

I visited the campus for the first time during winter break of my senior year. My application to the university was already submitted. All of the students were gone and there were no official tours I could take. I just walked aimlessly around with my friends and tried to pretend like I couldn’t see myself living there. If I did get rejected, it would be easier to deal with if people didn’t know I was already falling in love with the school.

Fast forward about three weeks later in mid-January, I wake up on a Saturday morning and see that I have an email from USC. I assumed it was some request for more financial aid documents or my transcripts. I open up the notification and to my surprise, there it is: “Congratulations! I am pleased to offer you admission to the University of Southern California…” I still have the screenshot of the letter on my phone. My first reaction was just utter shock because I had no idea why I was being notified so early. Turns out, if you submit your application by a certain deadline you are automatically considered for a USC scholarship and given early admission. I had to go back to USC and interview for the scholarship. I had no idea.

That was the second time I stumbled upon something special about USC without even knowing it.

Now let’s jump to mid-February where I am back at USC and interviewing for my potential scholarship. I cannot put into words how right everything felt. I met people that day that became a part of my life for the next four years. Everyone was just so nice and welcoming and happy. I couldn’t stop smiling the entire day.

I remember during one of the presentations I got a text from my mom who was in our hotel room nearby telling me that my uncle used to work IT for USC Admissions. Her and I didn’t know until that very day. He worked there over 10 years ago and by that time he was far away in Alabama so there was no reason for it to come up. It was another peculiarity that my own uncle worked at the school and I somehow avoided knowing for 18 years.

I didn’t think too much about it again until later that night when I was waiting for my mom to pick me up from campus. I stumbled upon a group of admissions counselors who were wrapping up their day as well. I decided to make small talk with them to pass the time. It was a shot in the dark but I asked them if they knew my uncle from over 10 years ago just to see what would happen. Imagine my surprise when the 3 people standing in front of me broke out into huge smiles and laughs as they recalled their memories of him. Apparently, he was known for riding a huge motorcycle to work everyday, getting that motorcycle stolen, and playing pranks on almost everyone. They went on for 30 minutes telling me their fondest memories of him. I felt like I was at a family reunion. As the conversation was wrapping up, one of the counselors turned to me and said, “If you do choose to come here, know that you have a family waiting for you.”

And that is my “Why USC.” It isn’t anything tangible like being a fan of the football team, or wanting to work with a certain professor. It was a bunch of coincidences that shouldn’t have been coincidences. It was like I was fighting fate by somehow avoiding USC up to that point and once I knew about it, the flood gates opened. I found my Trojan family by accident and there was no denying it.

Natalie Le