It's graduation time at colleges and universities across our nation. As a member of the faculty of the University of San Francisco, I participated in some of this week's graduation ceremonies for students from USF's College of Arts and Sciences. USF is a Catholic Jesuit university, like Georgetown Univeristy, Boston College, Loyola University New Orleans, and others. Aside from its size, its location, and the demographics of it graduating students, USF's commencement was similar to those that took place earlier this month or next month in many States.
A common denominator of these graduation ceremonies is the ritual of a commencement speaker. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama have been invited speakers, as have several media, business, literary and entertainment personalities, like Tim Cook of Apple, Chris Matthews of MNSBC, Oprah Winfrey, and Fareed Zakaria.
Among the topics they've chosen to speak about are climate change, income inequality and poverty, gay rights, foreign policy and America's role and stature in the world, and leadership advice. Commencement speeches often make a reference to the successful academic journey of the graduates. Their journey is often described as an essential part of their preparation for the numerous postgraduate existential challenges they are likely to face.
I was privileged to meet, see, and listen to two distinguished invited speakers at different USF graduations: Dr. Cheryl L. Dorsey, an African-American graduate of Harvard Medical School and the current president of the Echoing Green Foundation, who spoke at the commencement for graduate students, and Dr. Sylvia A. Earle, a National Geographic explorer in residence and the founder of Mission Blue, who spoke at the commencement for USF's undergraduate College of Arts and Sciences.
At the undergraduate commencement it was especially poignant to see and listen to the class valedictorian. He was a young, male Mexican-American student, Victor Casillas Valle, graduating summa cum laude (with a grade point average of 3.85) with a bachelor of arts in communications. He spoke to the faculty and students assembled in the majestic St. Inganitous Church in San Francisco, where the commencements took place.
Mr. Valle recounted and described the journey of his parents from Mexico and shared with the audience the advice and support he received from his parents as he was growing up. He told us that his mother died during his last year in high school. His mother never saw him begin his studies or graduate with honors from USF.
My eyes began to tear as I recalled the anguish I felt when my mother died during my third year in college at Columbia University. My parents were live-in domestic household servants. She never lived to see me graduate from Columbia, or later from Boston University Law School following my service in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.
I watched and listened to this young man's speech. I looked out at an audience of parents and friends of the graduating class of 2015 from USF's College of Arts and Science. I reflected on the demographics I saw: students of Latin American, Asian, white, and African-American backgrounds.
Persons who want to understand the effect of a broken Immigration system, the DREAM Act, and the importance of President Obama's executive actions to improve the system should go to a commencement at USF.
It was additionally poignant for me as I began to remember that the beauty of the ethnic and gender demographics of the students graduating from USF was also occurring on the 83rd birthday of Harvey Milk, and during the same time that Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador was being beatified at the Vatican in Rome.
Harvey Milk became the first openly gay person to be elected to public office when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977; he was subsequently assassinated by another San Francisco political figure, Dan White, in 1978. Archbishop Romero was murdered inside his church in El Salvador for his speeches on liberation theology and his leadership on behalf of the poor. Martin Luther King Jr. was an apostle of liberation theology.
As I watched and listened to USF's commencement ceremonies, these and other thoughts were roaming around in my head, along with the lyrics from the hit song by Whitney Houston, "The Greatest Love of All":
I believe the children are our are future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be
I have written and spoken many times about the fiduciary responsibilities that we have as adults today. We are "trustees" of our children. We must protect and safeguard them so that more young Victor Casillas Valles can graduate from USF and other colleges and universities throughout the United States. Loving and protecting our children is the greatest love of all.
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