By Cristy Lytal
When undergraduate Meera Gorjala opened the letter naming her 2019 valedictorian for the USC Price School of Public Policy, it took her by surprise.
She recounted: “The first thing I did was call my mom. And I said, ‘I don’t know how this happened, but I’m valedictorian somehow!’ ”
Given Gorjala’s many accomplishments, it’s clear how she earned this distinction. Growing up near Atlanta in the city of McDonough, Georgia, she served on her high school’s policy debate team and community service leadership board.
“Those were the things that initially interested me in getting a degree in public policy,” said Gorjala, who also has a double major in environmental studies and a specialization in computer programming.
At USC, Gorjala has pursued her passions for public policy and the environment both inside and outside of the classroom. She served as a research assistant at the USC Center for Economic and Social Research, where she focused on supermarkets in food deserts and health care issues. She also worked for a Congressional campaign for LA’s Koreatown district, for her Georgia county government, and for her Congressman’s office.
As she spent more time gaining work and internship experience, Gorjala set her sights on a law career focusing on environmental or energy policy issues. She worked with Earth Justice through USC’s Pre-Law Program through the university’s Joint Education Project, and at the Price Boyd Law Firm in her hometown. She also joined the pre-law fraternity, Phi Alpha Delta, and served as an editor for an ethics-related magazine at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.
These interests have led to explorations further afield. Through the Problems Without Passports program at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, she spent one summer on Catalina Island studying water and soil sustainability, and another summer in Norway, Finland and Iceland investigating the impacts of climate change on Arctic tourism.
“I wanted the actual experience of leaving the country,” she said. “I’ve always loved traveling.”
She also participated in USC Price’s Washington, DC, Semester Undergraduate Program, taking classes and interning in the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Water.
“I really liked living in DC,” she said. “I feel like it made me smarter, because everyone in DC is very on top of what’s happening all the time. And I feel like you meet so many cool people living in DC who are working on really important things.”
Back on campus, Gorjala continued her commitment to service by facilitating speaker events as a USC Price Ambassador. She extended her outreach to the local community by tutoring students ranging in age from kindergarten to high school through Jumpstart, Scholars Leading Scholars and the Joint Educational Project at USC, as well as through an internship at the nonprofit Garden School Foundation.
She also took on a teaching role at USC’s American Language Institute, where she practiced English and shared her knowledge of American culture with international teaching assistants.
Being well-rounded, Gorjala is also an exceptional singer, who has performed with the Concert Choir at the USC Thornton School of Music.
Gorjala’s many achievements have earned the attention of several top law schools, where she has already gained admission. She plans on attending the University of Chicago’s Law School in the fall.
“I really enjoy environmental justice work,” she said. “So maybe working on those types of issues, post graduation from law school, is what I want to do.”