With whoops, hoots, foot-stomping and a reckless disregard for where their hats landed, graduates in UCLA’s class of 2016 shook Pauley Pavilion with applause as they celebrated their commencement on Friday afternoon.
More than 5,500 seniors attended the two commencement ceremonies held by the UCLA College, the university’s primary undergraduate unit. Friday’s new alumni are among 8,000 who earned bachelor’s degrees and 4,700 who earned graduate degrees during the 2015-2016 school year.
Some students came to graduation almost directly from their last final exam, while others had been celebrating for days. Friends and family streamed into Pauley Pavilion carrying babies, bouquets and balloons. Parents exchanged tearful hugs with their children, taking care not to bump the caps off their heads.
This year’s celebrations are tempered by the June 1 shooting that claimed the life of UCLA Professor William Klug. Over the course of Friday’s ceremonies, several speakers paid their respects and reminded the graduates to seek strength in each other and the Bruin community.
“Last week, we were reminded how fragile we are,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “We are reminded that in times of trouble, we must take refuge in one other’s compassion and kindness.”
The speakers acknowledged that the graduates are entering a world that can be overwhelming: They will encounter more tragedy. They are graduating in the middle of a dismaying election season. They will have to learn how to deal with global challenges like climate change. To improve, the world needs their intelligence, perseverance and compassion, said Block.
“We call Bruins ‘the optimists,’” Block said. “Optimism is not blind faith that everything will magically be all right. Optimism is the conviction that intelligence, hard work, understanding, courage, compassion and creativity can make tomorrow better than today. … The world needs you. You at your bravest. You at your most insightful. You at your most loving. You at your most creative. And you at your most committed. And today I sense that optimism in all of you.”
Block added that many of the graduates have already begun to transform the world, whether by mentoring at-risk youth and bringing volunteer medical care to Mexico, like Kimberly Anyadike, supporting foster youth like Jaemmie Cañas, or creating sustainable farm projects to help children with disabilities in West Africa like Grant Guess.
Keynote speaker Laurence Fink, a UCLA alumnus, chairman and CEO of the global investment management firm BlackRock, and one of Forbes’ 2015 “World’s Most Powerful People,” earned rousing cheers with the depth of his UCLA ties.
“This place is in my blood,” Fink said. “My parents went here. My parents met here. My brother went here and my wife went here. … So I arrived in Westwood in the summer of 1972, mostly clueless, with a lot more hair, unbelievable sideburns — I mean I was really proud of those.”
UCLA is a big campus, but it felt small, and he became a part of a community that encouraged him to “push the limits of [my] knowledge,” Fink said.
“[It was] a place where I could begin to figure out who I was, and in my time here I found incredible opportunities,” Fink said. “I met two professors here, one in undergraduate, one in grad school, who taught me about finance and mentored me and encouraged me to [try] a career in New York … I went to New York, and that choice at first would lead to success. And then crushing failure.”
A whisper of nervous laughter rippled across the room. “That’s what I want to talk to you about today: About living with purpose, living with curiosity through both success and failure,” he said.
“Too often, you’ll find people who are just ‘doing’ — doing the job without thought; doing the job without purpose; without thinking; doing the bare minimum,” Fink continued. In his early days in financial services, his most devastating failure came as a result of taking his knowledge and success for granted, he said. Now, “I am constantly pushing myself to learn more … Because I know the moment I become too confident, too complacent, and if I lose that desire to learn, I shouldn’t be in the job anymore.”
The student welcome was delivered by Omer Hit, a neuroscience major and theater minor, at the first of the two ceremonies. English major Melia Grasska, summa cum laude, was scheduled to deliver the speech at the second ceremony.
“Sit up in your chairs proudly: You are graduating from the most applied-to university in the nation,” Hit told his classmates. “Many people desperately want to be in your position right now, but this is your moment.”
As he ended his speech, he rushed out a few final words before leaving the microphone. “Last but not least — I have to do this!” he said, and shouted, “Hands up for an eight clap!”
When the class of 2016 joined him in the iconic UCLA cheer — their last as students — the historic arena vibrated with noise.
The UCLA College ceremonies are among more than 50 graduations, receptions and celebrations taking place the last weeks of the school year, together awarding almost 12,800 degrees.