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Speech by SEC Staff:
Commencement Speech: University of Southern California, Leventhal School of Accounting


Donald T. Nicolaisen

Chief Accountant
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

Los Angeles, CA
May 14, 2004

Thank you Dean Beatty for the kind welcome. And thank you to the faculty, the families and friends of the Class of 2004 and, of course, the Class of 2004. Graduates, it's an honor and a privilege for me to be with you today to celebrate your accomplishments and to participate in your graduation ceremony. The Leventhal School of Accounting is recognized as one of the top accounting schools in the nation and has long been a personal favorite of mine. As Dean Beatty mentioned, I've had the privilege of being associated with your school for many years and I've had the opportunity to observe the important contribution the Accounting School and its graduates have made to our economy, our profession and our society. It's a tradition of excellence. And, I can't imagine a better place from which to acquire an education in accounting and a more exciting time to begin a career in the accounting profession.

Before I continue, let me make the usual SEC disclaimer. My remarks today reflect my own personal views, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commission.

At the SEC, our role as regulator is to serve as the investor's advocate, to protect investor interests and maintain market integrity. More than 90 million Americans-young and old-invest in our nation's capital markets. They invest for retirement, to send their children and grandchildren to college, to buy a new home or perhaps simply to improve their lives. Investors - and regulators - depend on the accounting profession -those who prepare financial statements, those who audit them and those who analyze financial performance to provide the unbiased and reliable information investors need to make informed investment decisions.

The end of the last century and the beginning of this century proved to be a difficult period for the accounting profession, the business community and especially for investors. Scandals, frauds, terrorism, greed, cooked books, audit failures and massive losses for investors drove home the message that ethics and values matter and that the accounting and auditing profession needed reform. In response, Congress enacted the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. The Commission enforces that Act. I believe that corporate governance and the auditing profession are improving and have undergone massive change. Those are all positive developments and, as a result, you enter the profession at a time when innovation, high quality financial reporting and stronger auditing practices are being demanded. We are looking for better ways to present, audit and analyze financial information used by investors. We need your talents and energy. I'm excited for you and would love to be in your shoes, entering the accounting profession at this time of profound change. I'm of the same mind as Thomas Jefferson who said, "I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past." I hope for some of you those dreams will include public service at some point in your careers.

I would like to add to that a few personal thoughts:

First, each of you is a unique individual, and the accounting profession - and for that matter the world - needs your innovation and individuality. At the SEC, we are committed to improving financial reporting - to obtaining and disclosing reliable information to investors in a faster, and more cost effective manner. That requires change and the use of new technologies. It's a web-based world. You are the first generation to live in that world, and we desperately need your creativity.

Second, make sure that you enjoy what you do. Don't take life too seriously. Take some risks and whenever possible, be a team member. You'll accomplish more working with others than any of us are likely to accomplish acting alone.

Third, don't be afraid to challenge the status quo and don't ever check your principles, ethics, values or ideals at the door. They are the glue that holds our markets, our nation and our families together.

And, finally, I would like to quote Orrin Hatch who said "Graduation is not the end: it's the beginning." I agree with that. You now have the skills that permit you to grow in knowledge and wisdom. Don't ever stop learning.

Class of 2004 remember fondly your years at USC, support your fellow Trojans and express thanks to your parents, grandparents and loved ones who supported you through your college years and to the faculty who provided your education. May the wind ever be at your back.

Congratulations and my very best wishes to each of you.

Take on the world!


Modified: 06/18/2004