Famed basketball player Ann Meyers Drysdale, the first woman to receive a full athletic scholarship to UCLA and one of the first women inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, has been chosen as the keynote speaker for the UCLA College of Letters and Science's dual commencement ceremonies on Friday, June 14.
Meyers Drysdale will speak at both the 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. ceremonies in the newly renovated Pauley Pavilion, where she competed as a student–athlete in the 1970s.
"We are thrilled that commencement is returning to Pauley Pavilion this year," UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said, speaking of the storied arena that has been home to countless UCLA championship teams, including those coached by the legendary John Wooden. "And we are so pleased that Ann could be our inaugural speaker because of her own stellar accomplishments and her connection to UCLA and Coach Wooden, with whom her family was close. Her record as a role model, leader, inspirational speaker, outstanding citizen, and extraordinary professional and college athlete makes her the ideal candidate to provide a motivational send-off to our College graduates."
This is the first time the campus will stage two identical College of Letters and Science commencement ceremonies on one day. With the reopening last November of Pauley Pavilion, the university's longtime graduation venue, College officials saw the opportunity to creatively address the issue of high demand for commencement tickets. In past years, graduating seniors were limited to two tickets for family or friends. Having two ceremonies just hours apart will now allow each graduate to have four guests share in their big day.
But the two-commencement solution also posed a special challenge in the selection of a speaker. Meyers Drysdale neatly solved the problem by agreeing to give the same speech at each ceremony.
"It was important for us to assure our graduates that they will have the same experience, no matter which ceremony they choose," said Joseph Rudnick, senior dean of the College of Letters and Science. "Now they can select the time that works best for them and their families and friends. We are so grateful to Ann for making this possible."
Meyers Drysdale, the wife of late Hall of Fame Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale, with whom she had three children, is the sister of former NBA player Dave Meyers, who also played basketball at UCLA and was the captain of Coach Wooden's final championship team, in 1975. Several of her family members also are Bruins, including her daughter Drew, a UCLA sophomore, and have a strong connection to Wooden.
"UCLA helped mold who I am today," said Meyers Drysdale, who is a strong supporter of her alma mater. "There is no question that I am a Bruin and always will be."
Block said it was important to the university that the speaker reflect both Coach Wooden's Pyramid of Success principles and UCLA's basketball legacy in Pauley. Wooden's Pyramid outlines the many traits and behaviors that enable great competitors to meet their challenges and find "true success," which Wooden characterized as "peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best you are capable of becoming."
"That says it all right there," Meyers Drysdale said. She said that "Papa," as she called Wooden, "was a big part of my life."
On the UCLA court, Meyers Drysdale was a dominant force. She guided UCLA to four conference titles and a women's college basketball national championship, in 1978, while also competing on the volleyball team and the track team, which won a national title in 1975. She was awarded the Broderick Cup in 1978 as the top female college athlete of the year and ended her UCLA career as the first four-time All-American in collegiate basketball history.
While still a student at UCLA, Drysdale was a starter on the United States' first women's Olympic basketball team, which won the silver medal in 1976 in Montreal. She is the only woman to have had a tryout with the NBA, as a free agent in 1979 with the Indiana Pacers, and was the first player drafted by the Women's Professional Basketball League, earning most valuable player honors in that league in 1979–80.
Over the last 35 years, she has had a successful career as sports broadcaster, providing commentary for five Olympics, including the 2012 London Games, as well as men's and women's basketball, softball and volleyball. A resident of Huntington Beach, Calif., Meyers Drysdale is vice president of the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury and the NBA's Phoenix Suns.
Block said that the selection of Meyers Drysdale for double duty as commencement speaker was a perfect choice.
"We wanted our speaker to be someone not just outstanding but someone who was close to the heart of UCLA," he said.
UCLA is California's largest university, with an enrollment of more than 40,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The UCLA College of Letters and Science and the university's 11 professional schools feature renowned faculty and offer 337 degree programs and majors. UCLA is a national and international leader in the breadth and quality of its academic, research, health care, cultural, continuing education and athletic programs. Six alumni and six faculty have been awarded the Nobel Prize.