Senior Spotlight: Crystal Guo

A young woman sits, relaxed and smiling, on a rock by a mountainside lake

January 26, 2022

"I'm terrified of heights but I love climbing." Senior Crystal Guo faces her challenges head-on, and it has only made her stronger. Over her years at the Academy, she has transformed from a self-described “nerdy kid” to a confident activist who leverages her design skills for social change. As she prepares to graduate, she knows the challenges won't stop, but she's determined to continue learning and facing down new challenges in order to do meaningful work that improves the world around her.

Tell me a little bit about your journey to the Academy? 

Growing up, I was definitely a nerdy kid — I loved math and science, and physics was my favorite class in high school. But I had also taken art, music and dance classes growing up, and I’d discovered that graphic design was a really exciting way for me to make my impact on the world around me. When I applied to colleges, I knew that I wanted to pursue graphic design while being in a university environment that valued academic excellence and diversity. USC fit the criteria, and its location in LA was also a big draw for me. When I found the Academy, its promise of a curriculum that breaks down interdisciplinary barriers seemed bold and unconventional, so I decided to give it a try! 

What advice have you implemented in your day to day life? 

I’m still trying to implement this, but the best advice I need in my life right now is to focus on the bigger picture and put my health and my goals first. 

Do you have a role model? Why do you look up to them? 

I look up to anyone who improves themself and the world around them by uplifting others. Examples include Chanel Miler, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), Emma Tang, Jihyun Yun and many of my friends and peers. Also, the older I get the more I come to admire my parents. 

Describe one thing most people don’t know about you? 

I’m terrified of heights, but love climbing. 

A young woman free-climbs a bouldering problem

What’s one thing your parents taught you that you’d like to share? 

My mom taught me that if I’m going to do something, to do it to the best of my ability. 

What is the biggest risk you have taken, and was the result what you wished for? 

Cutting my hair short! I didn’t really have any expectations beyond hoping that it wouldn’t look awful. The result turned out great, not only because it makes me stand out a bit more, but also because it prompted a lot of introspection about how I perceive myself and want to be perceived by others. 

What would you say is your defining achievement thus far? 

None of my achievements define me, but I am proudest of how I’ve developed my identity and found my voice as an Asian American feminist activist. This translates into achievements through the work that I do — for example, creating sticker fundraisers for organizations that support  Black Lives Matter, the 2020 CA wildfires, the 2020 elections, and Stop AAPI Hate; interning at Emerson Collective to support their work in issue areas such as gun violence and youth engagement; and developing a senior capstone project that gets our generation involved with activism.

What advice would you give to freshmen?

Surround yourself with people who help you grow. Even more than classes and professors, in college you learn from your peers. 

How have you evolved over the past four years? 

I’ve gained a lot of self-awareness and understanding of what drives me and who I want to be. This also comes with more self-confidence and belief in my own abilities — and I’m slowly pushing myself to take more risks. 

What goals do you have post-graduation? 

Continue learning and growing; gain new experiences and perspectives; work on my mental health and do meaningful work to better the world around me. More specifically, explore the world, spend time in nature, eat lots of good food, get a pet and keep my houseplants alive. 

A group of young people smile from a restaurant table
Two young women pose together with arms around one another


What inspires you? 

Many wonderful people and things, but currently it’s Typokaki: two Malaysian female type designers who designed new Chinese characters to call attention to sexism in the Chinese language. 

Favorite app or website? 

Headspace is really great and offers a student discount! It’s the only app on my phone that leaves me feeling refreshed and productive. 

Favorite class at USC and why?

SWMS219 Introduction to Feminist Theory. This class gave me a lot of the perspectives and vocabulary I needed to start engaging with activism. 

What is your favorite hidden gem of LA? 
Sawtelle — it’s a street and neighborhood in Culver City that has a lot of amazing Japanese food and culture. 

If you had to get a tattoo what would you get and why? 

Koi fish on one arm and a dragon on the other. There’s a Chinese legend called “鲤鱼跳 龙门” (carp/koi jumping over the dragon gate) — according to legend, if a fish is able to swim up a waterfall and leap over the dragon gate, it will be transformed into a dragon.

A young woman holding a clamp poses over an older man holding a drill in front of a person-sized canvas painted with an orange-and-yellow-leafed tree.
A bleached-blonde young woman holds the camera for a selfie alongside another woman at an outdoor brunch table.

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