Cooper Nelson thought she wanted to go to college on the East Coast when she was in high school. But little did she know, her college career on the West Coast would end with her delivering the valedictorian speech for the USC Class of 2017 as the first valedictorian from the School of Cinematic Arts.
“The work that’s done [at the School of Cinematic Arts] is wonderful,” Nelson said. “The talent that comes out of that school is incredible, and it was just an honor to kind of represent all of my fellow cinema kids.”
Originally from Marin County in Northern California, Nelson was drawn to USC due to receiving the prestigious Trustee Scholarship. She majored in cinema and media studies and history, culture and law, and minored in screenwriting. However, her work at USC went beyond her classes.
Along with receiving a 4.0 grade point average, Nelson is a member of the ski and snowboard teams, and also gave back to the community during her time in college by working as Pi Beta Phi’s philanthropy chair. She said she was most proud of promoting child literacy with local elementary school children through the national program Champions Are Readers with which the sorority partners.
“I never would have guessed that one of my best memories of my sorority would have been being able to engage in efforts in local schools,” she said.
Heliya Alam, Cooper’s friend and graduated with a degree in cinematic arts and critical studies on Friday, said that Nelson never let her commitment to academic pursuits get in the way of her extracurricular activities.
“She does a lot extracurricular activities that I do not know how she got her 4.0,” Alam said. “Every weekend she’s in the nature doing some type of activity and surfing, and she used to be on the ski team. I’m just so excited to see what she comes up with.”
Nelson and Alam became friends through their mutual love for the entertainment industry. They shared classes at the School of Cinematic Arts and both rushed the Pi Beta Phi sorority.
“She’s been one of my best friends and almost like a sister to me,” Alam said. “I could totally see her at my wedding, and I think that goes both ways. We’ve gone through a lot together.”
According to Alam, she and Nelson refer to each other as “princesses” because they are both in need of each other’s friendship. When Nelson spent a semester abroad in Australia, the two of them face-timed each other three times a week. The two will be roommates post-college starting in the fall.
“I don’t think I’m going to let go of her all too easily, and I don’t think she wants to let go of me that easily,” Alam said. “She’s still stuck with me.”
Alam said she is sure Nelson will “make it big” in Hollywood by creating a cartoon that she said will somehow change the world.
Nelson said she had never thought about going into the entertainment business until SCA showed her what was possible.
“[SCA is] the best in the world; it’s revered” Nelson said. “And, you know, it’s one of the only places where you can get this kind of education. The combination of a USC education with like really the best training in entertainment that’s available.”
Nelson found out she would be valedictorian sitting alongside Alam and 30 other sisters from her sorority.
“My reaction was more shocked and excited than her reaction because I think she was just speechless … I’m really, really proud of her.” Alam said.
Nelson said the feeling of being valedictorian still puts her in shock.
“I’m absolutely honored to have been chosen,” Nelson said. “There are amazing kids in the graduating class … USC only gets better and better, and it was incredible to be given this opportunity to represent the school, especially the School of Cinematic Arts.”