Peter Nosco

Peter Nosco

September 5, 2001

By Scott Martindale
USC Daily Trojan Staff Writer

Love, equality, honesty, service and humility are only some of the virtues important to Academic Senate President Peter Nosco, who delivered the first “What Matters to Me and Why” speech Wednesday afternoon.

Nosco, a professor of East Asian languages and cultures, followed his talk with a discussion of topics such as relationships and “forgiving the unforgivable.”

The one-hour, informal discussions, held monthly at noon on campus, seek to bridge the gap between intellectual life and personal growth at USC. About 50 students, faculty and community members attended Wednesday’s event in E.F. Hutton Park.

“We are building a culture in which people come together in meaningful, sociable ways outside the classroom,” said Rabbi Susan Laemmle, dean of Religious Life and director of the event. “Students want to know their professors on a personal level.”

In his address, Nosco spoke of his optimism at creating this sort of intellectual community.

“One of the exciting things about USC has been observing the increasing quality of students here,” Nosco said. “It’s wonderful because we are all learning from each other.”

From interactions with roommates, classmates, co-workers and faculty, Nosco said students learn how to form meaningful, mutual beneficial relationships.

“In my interactions with other people, I try to think of the dignity of the other,” Nosco said, jokingly adding that driving on the freeway often proves to be the exception.

The inequalities that exist in society and even at USC make it extremely important to seek modesty and humility in one’s life, he said.

Service to family, friends and community plays a central role in “trying to leave one’s environment a modestly better place,” he said.

“It’s the concept that we can do meaningful good and be good at the same time.”

Neil Vora, a member of the student steering committee that selected Nosco as the keynote speaker, had nothing but praise for his former professor.

“He’s a very inspirational man,” said Vora, a sophomore majoring in biology and philosophy. “What he said in class contributed to my beliefs about imperialism and modernism. I’m glad I was one of his students.”

Nosco also emphasized the importance of humility on the job, especially in a profession like his own.

“We have the authority [in the classroom], we have the answers; that’s kind of dangerous,” he said. “It’s important for us in the educational community to keep a sense of modesty.”

On the other hand, professors play a crucial role in giving a student direction and motivation, said Mark Kann, a member of the audience and chair of the political science department.

“When you ask faculty what were some of their most important moments in education, the events weren’t organized but extracurricular events,” Kann said, citing his own experience with a former college professor.

“I got a bad grade on a paper, and I had coffee [with her],” he said. “She told me why I was too smart to turn in that paper.”

As co-chair of the Academic Culture Initiative, a committee with similar goals to the “What Matters to Me and Why” series, Kann hopes to “create more opportunities for students to have more of these defining moments.”

Laemmle believes the discussion series will accomplish just that.

“It gives you exposure to professors whom you won’t have in the classroom,” Laemmle said. “You go to a talk, and you hear from a professor what’s important in life.”

Honesty and love are two other virtues that Nosco values.

Nosco stressed “the beauty of living a life unadulterated by lies” a quality he learned from reading the works of Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi.

“Within truth itself, there is power to change the world,” Nosco said. “It just requires so much effort to construct a card castle of lies.”

And knowing how to love is particularly important to Nosco, who defines love as “caring for someone else roughly in equal proportion to what one cares for oneself.”

Nosco also explained the futility of attempting to talk a person out of their fears.

“Telling someone not to be fearful in a frightening situation is like telling someone not to think of the number four,” he said.

Nosco instead believes people must overcome their fears, no matter how common or mundane, on their own.

“Standing in front of others to speak, catching a wave, driving even the legal speed, these are examples I believe are, by their very nature, frightening,” he said. “And yet I believe one has to overcome the fear to do these successfully.”

USC Daily Trojan, September 6, 2001