For Olympic runner and USC master’s graduate Isaiah Champion Jewett, coming in last place is not a failure, but a point of pride.
Addressing the 2022 graduating class of USC Bovard College, Jewett admitted he was the last in his family to graduate college, the last to compete on a NCAA Division 1 level and now the last to earn a master’s degree.
“My family always demanded excellence, hence why my two sisters are named Victorya, spelled like ‘victory,’ and Olympia, spelled like ‘Olympic,’” he said. “I was given the middle name Champion, and I was named that not because I win — trust me, I lose more than I win — but because regardless of the adversity life throws at me, I fight on.”
Of course, anyone who watched Jewett’s performance in the 800-meter semifinal race during the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games will say he is not only a fighter, but also an incredible sportsman.
During the final curb of the race, Jewett was expected to finish in the top two of his heat when the unimaginable happened. Botswana runner Nijel Amos unintentionally tripped Jewett from behind, and they both fell to the track floor.
Understandably, Jewett was filled with frustration and disappointment — until he looked back at his middle-distance competitor.
“A glance of his face of devastation snapped me out of it. As I picked him up to finish the race with me, I did not know it then, but my dream of being a hero actually came true. For helping the other racer up, I was known as the hero of the Olympics,” he said.
Amos then apologized for the accident, and Jewett put his arm around him, finishing the race side by side. This remarkable act of forgiveness and sportsmanship led Jewett to be recognized by the university, the world and even President Joe Biden, which became more meaningful than any medal he could have secured.
While at first glance it may seem that running has nothing to do with the world of project management, Jewett explained that attending the Olympics and graduating with his MS in Project Management taught him the very same lesson — to persevere.
When Jewett decided to enter the master’s program amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he was just finishing up his senior season (and Bachelor of Arts in Non-Governmental Organizations and Social Change) at USC. His track career was on hold, and the online MSPM degree offered Jewett a new path and chance at winning gold.
Still, he was bombarded with thoughts of uncertainty: Would I be good enough? Was this the right call? Would I fail?
“But I decided to dive right in … I am so thankful I took the left turn. I am a 2021 National Champion, I am a 2021 Olympian [and] I am a 2021 Bovard College MS in Project Management graduate,” he said. “I get to leave here with skills and knowledge I would have never been exposed to had I not taken the leap of faith. I get to leave here with new opportunities in a field I never thought I could pursue.”
At USC Bovard College, students — like Jewett — are able to successfully juggle their professional and personal responsibilities with their higher education pursuits, with many being parents and caregivers, full-time employees with commitments to their communities and even active military members stationed around the globe.
Graduates have gone on to make incredible strides in various fields, including business, government and nonprofits, according to Dean Anthony Bailey.
“As the cycle of innovation accelerates across industries, [our students’] skills are needed more than ever to successfully implement strategic projects,” Bailey told the class of 2022.
Sharing a similar message of hope and resilience, Jewett also spoke at the USC Bovard Scholars commencement reception, which celebrated the program’s first graduating cohort of students from USC.
Bovard Scholars, a college preparatory program that helps high-achieving, low-income students gain admission to top-tier universities, began in 2017, and it has supported almost 500 high school students.
While many have chosen to enter the Trojan Family, others have gone on to attend universities such as Cornell, Dartmouth, Oberlin, Baylor and Columbia. (In fact, 17 students from the 49 total in cohort one picked USC as their alma mater.)
Looking at the future post-graduation, Jewett has his eyes set on the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris as well as a career in animation, which he is confident he can accomplish with the knowledge and skills he’s developed in the MSPM program.
“A lot of people look at graduation as the end, but it’s really the beginning. The beginning of our new hero stories … With our own ‘superpowers,’ we journey through life following our dreams, making mistakes and falling down, but always getting up because that’s what heroes do,” he concluded.
Learn more about the online Master of Science in Project Management program today.