Commencement Spotlight: James Turner, BS ’24

James Turner spoke on behalf of the Bachelor of Science graduates at the 117th USC Mann Commencement Ceremony.

Like many of his peers, James Turner was forced by the COVID-19 pandemic to start his academic journey at USC from the confines of his home. In Turner’s case, home was Wichita Falls, Texas, where he studied while working nearly full time at a grocery store.

“It was really difficult at first, being at home,” Turner says of not being able to study in Los Angeles until later. “The physical distance from campus and everybody else—about 1,300 miles—really made the isolation worse.”

Growing up in a northern Texas city of just over 100,000 people, he often felt confined by its limitations: As one of the few openly gay men in the community, Turner says, it wasn’t until he moved to Los Angeles that he fully recognized the solitude he had endured. Arriving at USC and seeing the city’s abundance of opportunities gave Turner a sense of “newfound freedom.”

From coursework to extracurricular activities, Turner found his time at USC transformative. He minored in LGBTQ studies and applied what he learned to his studies of pharmacology and drug development. In RXRS 414, Buzzed: Modern Substances of Abuse and Addiction, Turner incorporated facts about discrimination into a presentation on the disproportionate arrest rates of Black people for marijuana possession. In classes on societal structures, he spoke about the healthcare issues faced by vulnerable communities.

Another introductory course, RXRS 200, Approaches to Pharmacology and Drug Development, led Turner to meet Tam Phan, assistant professor of clinical pharmacy at the Mann School and clinical pharmacy coordinator at the Los Angeles LGBT Center. As one of the first openly queer pharmacists Turner had encountered, he says Phan’s achievements made him feel that a career in pharmacy was attainable.

“I have always admired and appreciated his dedication to bringing LGBTQ issues into classrooms,” Turner notes of Phan. “He made it easier for me to see myself in the position of being a teacher and a pharmacist.”

Turner and friends at the 2024 annual Gearfest, a spring concert put on by USC’s Black Student Assembly, on March 29, 2024. (Photo courtesy of James Turner)

“Our conversations really show his passion to pursue pharmacy as a future career,” Phan says. “More importantly, his work ethic goes beyond the classroom, since he has taken on cocurricular activities in mental health advocacy and in the pre-pharmacy society. He serves as an ambassador for the school.”

Turner’s involvement in the National Society of Black Engineers and the Black Student Assembly at USC allowed him to contribute to building a supportive community among his peers. At USC, Turner also co-founded—and served as secretary for—BlackSpace for Mental Health, hosting emotional wellness workshops for Black students on a biweekly basis.

In the past three years, Turner worked at the Mann School’s admissions office as well, assisting prospective students with their inquiries. He says that talking to students and faculty provided him with a much deeper understanding of the PharmD program and ultimately influenced his decision to stay at USC for his graduate studies.

Turner and friends at a USC Women’s Basketball game in January 2023. (Photo courtesy of James Turner)

Looking back at the four years at USC, Turner sees his personal resilience as a victory, noting the significant increase in his GPA as he progressed in the program. His awards include receiving the Mann School’s Undergraduate Diversity Scholarship multiple times and being named the Dr. Homira Firoozeh Kioumher and Dr. Fariba Firozeh Bagheri Endowed Scholar in 2023.

Turner will join the Mann School as a PharmD student in August. With a strong interest in psychiatric pharmacy within pediatric populations, he is exploring opportunities in teaching and precepting after completing the program.

Turner spoke at the USC Mann School’s 2024 Commencement Ceremony on behalf of the undergraduate class on Saturday, May 11. Learn more about commencement at