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USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology students, faculty members, and supporters gathered together on October 17 for the Scholars and Benefactors Luncheon, an annual event recognizing the donor support that makes achieving strides in gerontology a reality.

“As gerontologists, the entire lifespan is our work. Not very many people in professions can claim that,” said USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology Dean Pinchas Cohen.

The USC Leonard Davis School’s student body tripled over the last six years, Cohen said. He added that more than half of its students receive school scholarships to support their studies and listed the scholarships that make the school’s programs accessible to more students.

“These students are some of the most remarkable, wonderful individuals at USC,” Cohen said. “They’re compassionate, they’re extraordinary, and they come here to apply their interests and passions and goals to create unique careers—the careers of the future—and lead in service, leadership, and scientific discovery.”

Elizabeth Rojas, who completed her undergraduate studies at the USC Leonard Davis School and is now pursuing her Master of Science in Gerontology at the school, expressed her appreciation to the donors.

“Easily, without this scholarship, I would not be able to attend such a distinguished program and study something I am so passionate about.” she said.

Professor Mara Mather also thanked the donors for their support of her and her colleagues’ research projects.

“Thank you all so much for what you’ve done to support this endeavor and make life so exciting and fruitful for those of us in the school,” Mather said.

Shari Thorell, chair of the USC Leonard Davis School Board of Councilors, told stories about her love for the school and the field of study.

“Every student I have ever met who has been in gerontology is passionate about it, and that pleases me because of my own passion as well,” Thorell said.

Master’s student and scholarship recipient Elizabeth Rojas speaks during the Scholars and Benefactors Luncheon (photo by Steve Cohn).

Her grandmother changed her life.

Elizabeth Rojas was exposed to caregiving after her grandma was diagnosed with vascular dementia. Her family’s unwavering care and attention towards her grandmother inspired Rojas to follow the same path of compassion and elder care.

“I saw first-hand the patience, and the love, and the effort and determination it really takes to care for somebody aging and to care for somebody facing cognitive decline,” Rojas said. “And I decided I wanted to make it my mission to do the same thing in my life.”

Rojas experienced the humbling moments of assisting someone who helped her throughout her childhood.

“It was the greatest honor of my life being able to reverse those roles and care for someone who cared so deeply for me,” Rojas said.

This introduction to the world of aging and cognitive decline moved Rojas to attend the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. She received her Bachelor of Science in Lifespan Health and is currently finishing her graduate studies.

While at USC, Rojas was a member of the Student Gerontology Association, where she was able to bond with members within the USC Leonard Davis School and deepen her passion for the subject. This is especially thanks to the professors whom she spent time with through the program, she said.

“I know who they are on their days off, I know some only function after two cups of coffee. They’ve become my friends, my mentors, my advisors,” Rojas said.

Other opportunities Rojas has seized while at the school have been studying abroad in Tel-Aviv with Professor Mara Mather and working at local hospitals. During her speech, Rojas thanked the benefactors in the crowd for making these stages of her journey possible.

“The Leonard Davis School is my home away from home, and it is my safe haven on this campus. I always know I am welcome there,” Rojas said. “Your support of the Leonard Davis School allows students like me to have opportunities that simply couldn’t happen anywhere else, and I am tremendously grateful.”

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