2019 UCLA College CommencementSpeech
To all our friends, family and guests I say: Welcome! And to the class of 2019 I say: CONGRATULATIONS!!
This is a pretty special moment for UCLA, as we celebrate our 100th anniversary, but I know it’s also a very special moment for all of you.
By graduating this year, at this moment, you will forever be an important part of the history of this great institution, because today you not only graduate from the number one public university in the nation, you are also — and will always be — the Centennial Class of UCLA!
100 years might seem like a very long time ago, but in the life of a university, UCLA is still very young compared to other institutions. And what all of us have achieved for UCLA in that short period of time is truly extraordinary.
The journey began, of course, in May of 1919, when California’s governor signed a bill establishing this university. In the years that followed, we moved from Vermont Avenue to Westwood, in 1929.
When we started on this campus, we had only four buildings. Since then, we have added 213 buildings to campus!
Life was, admittedly, a little different for students back then…
Freshmen had to wear a “beanie” and step out of the way for older students. Students lined up outside Royce to complete paper registration for courses. Westwood had an ice-skating rink oddly called “Tropical Ice Gardens.”
And yet, there was no Diddy Reese! There was no Trader Joe’s!
When UCLA started, it was not even called UCLA. It was just called the “Southern Branch of the University of California.” Do you know who led the charge to change that? Students.
In 1922, our student newspaper was called the “Cub Californian” — we would not become “the Bruins” for a few more years! — and they insisted that we should not be called “the Southern Branch.” They — rightfully! — thought the term suggested “inferiority” to our sister campus in the Bay Area.
They proclaimed that the student paper would begin calling this campus “The University of California at Los Angeles.” Five years later, the UC Regents officially adopted that name, which is now famous.
How our name got shortened to “UCLA” is a story for another time. There is an important lesson in that story. I think those students who led the move for a name change almost 100 years ago are sending you a message today: Don’t let someone else define you! Don’t let someone else’s lack of imagination limit who you are, how you see yourself or what you aspire to be.
Take control and shape your own identity. That’s not just a lesson about the name of a school, that’s a lesson about being alive.
Much of UCLA’s history teaches that same lesson. UCLA is not the same as it was in 1919 or in 1929. It’s more responsive, more creative, it better embodies the aspirations of all its members.
There is still more work to do. UCLA can always improve and we must work harder to fully embody our ideals. We must be vigilant so that everyone is treated with respect and everyone can fulfill their potential.
But in almost every way, UCLA has changed. And it changed, not by accident. Not by an invisible hand of inevitability…
It has changed because of the students, faculty, staff, alumni and others just like all of you who said, ‘UCLA can do better.’
In every generation, the university has benefited from those who pushed us to dream bigger and do better.
We owe a debt to those who refused to give up, to those whose vision, courage and hard work shaped the university we are so proud of today.
A number of important things we offer at UCLA are a direct result of efforts by our students to make this campus better: The creation of our ethnic studies centers; programs to support students who are veterans, undocumented, transfers, parents and former foster youth; initiatives to expand academic opportunity and more are all rooted in student activism.
I know the class of 2019 has also left its mark here.
My hope is that you take the same spirit of vision, courage and hard work into the new communities you will be part of, the families you will create and the workplaces you will join.
There is one more piece of UCLA history that is important to know as you start writing the next chapter of your lives.
Royce Hall, in some ways the building that has most come to symbolize UCLA, was named for Josiah Royce, an American philosopher at the turn of the 20th century.
Royce was known for championing the idea of the “Beloved Community,” which he described as a “community capable of achieving the highest good as well as the common good.” We must all work together, he said, to create that community.
Another great thinker, Martin Luther King Jr., took up that idea and made it central to his work. Dr. King stressed that the “ultimate” goal of the civil rights movement “must be the creation of the beloved community.”
For Dr. King, that meant institutions committed to justice, it meant disagreements solved peacefully and it meant people devoted not to selfish gain but to each other’s well-being.
When Dr. King spoke at UCLA in 1965, just steps away from Royce Hall, he described the creation of a society where “all people live together” as siblings and where everyone “will respect the dignity and worth” of all human beings.
Those are bold ideas. But these ideas are part of UCLA’s history. And this is a time to be inspired by bold ideas, to embrace them as part of our dreams for the future and help make them come true.
So, when you pass Royce Hall, or look back on photos of your time at UCLA and see that iconic building in the background, let this idea and all that Dr. King and his colleagues achieved inspire you. And let what UCLA has achieved here over the last 100 years, with your help, inspire you as well.
Beloved communities don’t just happen. They are made. They are the result of dozens of decisions we make every day. You have the ability to make your own community better. I know all of you can make a difference.
And this community will always be here to support you and celebrate your accomplishments. Stay connected. Upon graduating, you are all now members of the UCLA Alumni Association! Please stay involved. Inspire us with your dreams of what we can become together.
UCLA’s first chief executive, Ernest Carroll Moore, said of this brand-new university, “We shall look with amazement upon its development, for it is certain to be greater, far greater, than the imagination of any of us can foresee.”
When I look at you, I know your future is far greater than the imagination any of us can foresee.
And I wish you all the best as you go forth and create that future. Thank you, congratulations and GO BRUINS!