This story originally appeared in UCLA Today, a discontinued publication.
Commencement ceremonies for UCLA's Class of 2011 are in full swing
Alison Hewitt |
Community service was the theme of the day at UCLA, where an estimated 4,400 graduating seniors officially transitioned from their school careers into lives of leadership.
Friends, families, and robed faculty and grads packed Drake Stadium for the College of Letters and Science commencement ceremony, the biggest of the many graduations at UCLA today and this week. On their way to their seats, the students lined the lanes of the track during the course of a processional that took a solid half-hour. Many snapped pictures or talked animatedly on their cell phones as they approached their chairs. In the sea of caps and gowns sat students like Yannina Casillas and Imelda Plascencia, two seniors who overcame immense obstacles to obtain their college education.
Even before the keynote speaker, Peace Corps director Aaron S. Williams, could cajole the students into lives of volunteerism, the graduates heard from their classmate Elly Pettygrove, a transfer student, literacy tutor and history major who plans to work for Teach for America in Mississippi.
“We walk away from here with the responsibility to choose change over comfort,” she said. “Our diplomas are a promise: a promise that we won’t just rest in a comfortable life, but will always look ahead and confront the injustice, poverty and pain of our world.”
Williams challenged the graduates to confront inequality in the world. Did they know, he asked, that more people in the world own cell phones than have access to a toilet? "Or that while our country grapples with an obesity epidemic, around the world, each night, one in seven people goes to bed hungry?” he asked.
UCLA has a long history with the Peace Corps. Not only did the campus become one of the first places to offer training to volunteers before they departed to their service countries, but 1,800 Bruins have joined the Peace Corps since its founding, including 92 alumni serving abroad right now, Williams noted. He congratulated the newest crop of Bruin graduates for already proving their commitment to service: This year’s grads helped create UCLA’s annual Volunteer Day, and traveled to Haiti and New Orleans to rebuild as part of their Alternative Spring Break.
“You are already ... a community of heroes,” he said. “Whether you already know where you’re headed, or you're still wondering in which direction to go, if you let service be your guide, your lives will be immeasurably enriched.”
Williams also offered a few jokey words of warning about life away from UCLA. “When you refer to ‘Coach,’ not everyone is going to know you mean John Wooden,” he said. “Second … some of the friends sitting next to you right now are actually going to go to USC for graduate school. It’s true.”
UCLA Chancellor Gene Block congratulated the students, and Judith Smith, the dean and vice provost for undergraduate education, was among those who presented the proud new grads to Block for the conferring of degrees. Class President Jasmine Hill led her peers in lifting the tassels of their caps from the right side to the left, officially marking them as college graduates. The crowd of new UCLA alumni cheered, throwing their hands, confetti and even a few mortarboards into the air.
The audience flowed onto the field to greet their graduates, carrying balloons, bouquets, and leis made of flowers and money.
Throughout the day at UCLA, students in public affairs, business, theater and more gathered to receive their degrees. Former U.S. Rep. Jane Harman spoke at the Luskin School of Public Affairs ceremony Friday morning in Royce Hall. U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer was scheduled at the School of Theater, Film and Television ceremony in Dickson Court North. Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, was to address grads at the Anderson School of Management in Wilson Plaza.
Graduations continue this evening and on Saturday with speakers like Dr. Mitchell Katz, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, and Father Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest and founder of the Homeboy Industries gang-intervention program. For the full list of speakers, go here.