Are you part of the mafia?

The USC Mafia, that is. It’s the not-so-secret secret shared by all graduates that an invisible web exists after the tassel is flipped to the other side of the cap that connects Trojan graduates in surreptitious and advantageous ways.

At a quick glance – the SC football watching parties around the country and the world that turn Saturdays in the fall into cardinal and gold events of seismic proportions no matter what the mailing code, professional mixers that offer chances to network, Trojan travel packages that allow like-minded former residents of the Hoover corridor to gallivant all over the globe – there is no argument that SC alums do their very best to stay in contact and to use the strong arm of the hundreds of thousands of living alumni to its best might.

In Hollywood, of course, connections abound with unceasing (and for those who aren’t in the club, no doubt, infuriating) frequency. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who’s got a studio deal or a hot script, and that lucky grad will rest assured be bringing a cadre of fellow mafiosos with them to the shoot. One friend of mine is on building-sized posters for a hit new HBO show, another works very hard as an extra – “the light of the background” – and they talk constantly about the industry and how to make sure they both work towards their stars on the Hollywood Walk o’ Fame together.

But I come to you with the simplest of USC Mafias. Halfway through my three-week jaunt around Central America, I have spent almost every waking minute with two SC friends. One works at a theater in San Francisco, and just last year teamed up with two other Trojans to travel around Argentina and Uruguay. The other joined the Peace Corps after graduation and is nearing the end of her two-year duty in Nicaragua.

The three of us are originally from completely different parts of the country and would have no reason to meet, other than our time spent on Trousdale, in Doheny or cheering in the Coliseum. We are a trio forged and minted by USC, and for that I am grateful.

That’s the SC Mafia I admire. Solid friendships that stand the tests of time and distance, improved by the remarkably different lives that graduates can lead. We do not live near each other, and our postgraduate employments and experiences are as varied as they could possibly be. That is the strength of a mafia – not exclusionism or elitism, but the ability to gain the best possible value out of the skills and experiences of its members. We aren’t sweaty dudes hanging out in sleeveless T-shirts on a sweltering porch, leaving the guns and taking the cannoli, but we are traveling Central America together after two years apart, me wearing my Trojans hat all the while.

And there are perks along the way – the guard at the Panama Canal telling me “Go Trojans, Go Trojans, Go,” when he opens the door for me and flashes me the Fight On sign, the UCLA grad on the zipline through the Costa Rican rainforest begrudgingly admitting that he’s thinking of sending his kids to USC even though it will kill him to do it – that suggest that you do get a little something extra with that diploma when you walk off campus as a student for the last time. After all the money and all the study (or a bit less study for some), that’s the kind of education I want. Not just what I know, but a collaboration of the minds of many, working together and giving a bit of a legitimate leg up to others who have come along the same path.