Grads urged to better society, continue learning
May 24, 2008 -- At San Francisco State University's 107th Commencement today, keynote speaker San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and other honorees urged the Class of 2008 to live authentic lives, to work for the betterment of society and to never stop learning.
Newsom urged graduates to be willing to take risks. He told them, "Mistakes are portals of discovery...When you fail, you're learning something new." He reminded graduates that Michael Jordan was rejected from his high school basketball team, Winston Churchill finished last in his class and Elvis Presley got an F in music. Acknowledging that only in San Francisco could a politician quote Jerry Garcia, he imparted a bit of wisdom from the Grateful Dead leader: "You do not want to be the best of the best. You want to be the only one who does what you do."
Newsom told graduates: "Forget the pursuit of power. I'm talking Ghandi, [Martin Luther] King, Vaclav Havel, Nelson Mandela… None of them had formal authority… You do not need a title to have moral authority... You do not need a title to change the world."
SF State awarded diplomas to the graduating class of 2008 before a crowd of more than 20,000 guests at Cox Stadium. More than half of the 8,275 graduates -- comprising the University's largest graduating class -- were in attendance. Diverse in their accomplishments and origins, the class represented 108 countries.
SF State President Robert A. Corrigan urged graduates to stay committed to the University's core values of social justice, equity and diversity, challenging them "to go out and live by the values that this singular University has stood for over a century -- the values we hope have been imparted to you."
During the ceremony, SF State honored psychologist and activist Joseph L. White, Ph.D., as its 2008 Alumnus of the Year. White, who earned a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in psychology from SF State in 1954 and 1958 respectively, is widely known as "the father of black psychology" and helped establish the Association of Black Psychologists, the California State University-wide Educational Opportunities Program and SF State's Black Studies Program. He told graduates: "We need you to take us the next step of the way… to take us where Martin Luther King, Jr. asked us to go 45 years ago when he said we should move toward a 'beloved community.'" White then asked the crowd to stand, join hands and participate in a rousing call and response from the speech King delivered after the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965: "How Long, Not Long."
Three distinguished individuals received honorary degrees. The honorary doctor of humane letters degree was conferred to Manny Mashouf (B.A., ’66), founder and chairman of bebe stores inc.; Walter Johnson, secretary-treasurer emeritus of the San Francisco Labor Council; and Isabel Allende, author, teacher and philanthropist. Mashouf’s degree was conferred by SF State; Johnson and Allende received their degrees from the CSU system.
After noting that the purple-clad Class of 2008 was "wearing the most fashionable color of the year," Mashouf told graduates: "When I was a student the campus was a place of idealism, social action and we got involved with civil rights, women's liberation, free speech, anti-war protests and other huge issues. We graduated with the feeling that we could change the world, and I think we did. I hope you graduate with the same sense of passion, determination and confidence." Mashouf, who along with Neda Mashouf made the biggest donation in SF State history -- a $10 million gift in 2005 to help fund a new building for the College of Creative Arts, said: "Do what you love the best... embrace honesty and integrity in everything you do in life and give back."
Labor leader Walter Johnson, who successfully fought for the rights of women, people of color, and gays and lesbians working in stores across San Francisco, told graduates: "We hold the future and we are going to change it…and we're going to do it because we're going to do it together."
Best-selling author Isabel Allende, who has devoted her life to giving voice and opportunity to women and children fleeing war, famine, poverty and persecution, said: "I'm a first generation Hispanic immigrant. This country has been very good to me. It has given me freedom, space, privacy and the opportunity to give something back."
The student speaker, decision sciences and statistics major Andrew C. Hines, had several words of advice for his classmates: "Our ability to continue learning is what ultimately will determine our success. And to continue learning we must seek out new experiences with an eager mind, searching for insight and meaning at every turn…the challenge now for each of us is to be a student forever."
The 107th Commencement transcript is now available online.
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