Aaron S. Williams, director of the Peace Corps and a former Peace Corps volunteer, will be the keynote speaker this June at the UCLA College of Letters and Science commencement ceremony, the university has announced.
Williams, who served as a volunteer in the Dominican Republic, will deliver his remarks on Friday, June 10, at Drake Stadium on the Westwood campus. Approximately 4,000 students are expected to receive their bachelor's degrees at the ceremony, in front of a large audience of family and friends.
The announcement of Williams as commencement speaker comes as UCLA is preparing a major commemoration for the Peace Corps' 50th anniversary, which will be observed on campus March 2–5, 2011, with a series of events. The Peace Corps was created on March 1, 1961, by order of President John F. Kennedy. By the fall of that year, UCLA was fully involved in training volunteers for service, first in Africa and later in Latin America. Peace Corps volunteers are now trained in their host countries.
More than 1,700 UCLA alumni have served in the Peace Corps since its inception, and the campus ranks eighth among all universities in the nation in the number of Peace Corps volunteers.
Having Williams as the UCLA commencement speaker calls attention to the shared commitment of UCLA and the Peace Corps to public service, said Judith Smith, dean and vice provost for undergraduate education in the UCLA College of Letters and Science.
"Chancellor Gene Block has pledged to build upon UCLA's historical commitment to public service, both at the university and beyond," Smith said. "We are extremely gratified that Aaron Williams has agreed to speak to our undergraduates as they move into the world to create a new generation of globally competent and service-minded individuals."
A third of UCLA's undergraduates participate in some form of community service, from tutoring young people and combating poverty and homelessness to providing legal, social, medical and educational assistance to others.
In 2009, the campus launched its Volunteer Center, an online gateway for civic engagement. The center also organizes the annual UCLA Volunteer Day each fall, during which new UCLA students, in one of their first activities as Bruins, fan out into the Los Angeles community to perform clean-up and other volunteer tasks at public sites.
In 2010, Washington Monthly ranked UCLA first in community service among all universities in the nation. Service also is a key value of "True Bruins," who pledge to make a positive impact on the world through public service.
Williams became Peace Corps director in August 2009 and is the fourth director in Peace Corps history to have served as a volunteer. During his service in the Dominican Republic, Williams, who is fluent in Spanish, helped to train rural school teachers. He met his wife, Rosa, during his service in the Peace Corps.
Among the Peace Corps commemoration events at UCLA this March will be a panel discussion on Wednesday, March 2, featuring Williams, as well as other notable past Peace Corps volunteers, including several UCLA alumni: MSNBC "Hardball" host Chris Matthews; Vanity Fair writer Maureen Orth; Frank Mankiewicz, former regional Peace Corps director for Latin America and former press secretary for U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy; Haskell Sears Ward, an executive at Seacom, a fiber optics communication company; and Francoise Castro, a State Department program analyst.
The commemoration will also feature an exhibit, a reception, a film, a volunteer project and a festival in Bruin Plaza.