Commencement 2009: speakers promote social justice
May 23, 2009 -- At San Francisco State University's 108th Commencement today, more than 8,000 graduates were urged to work for equity and social justice and to continue to level the playing field. Inspiring words came from a civil rights champion Morris Dees and baseball legend Willie Mays Jr. Laughter was provided by critically acclaimed actor Jeffrey Tambor.
Civil rights champion Morris Dees, the keynote speaker, told graduates, "You hold the keys to the gates of justice for the next generation."
SF State awarded diplomas to the graduating class of 2009 before a crowd of more than 20,000 guests at Cox Stadium. Diverse in their accomplishments and origins, the class represented 105 countries.
SF State President Robert A. Corrigan, who presided over his 20th Commencement exercises at the University, said, "We believe at SF State that it is our responsibility to educate hearts as well as minds. We're proud to be a university of activism, of personal responsibility, of concern for major issues and determination to be engaged in those issues."
Dees, a civil rights lawyer and co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a law firm internationally known for its legal victories against hate groups, used his address to pay tribute to fellow honoree, baseball legend Willie Mays. "When Willie Mays went to the major leagues, he didn't want nor expect to have anybody throwing him softballs. And you won't get any softballs thrown at you," Dees told the class of 2009. "You're going to have to make it in these times that we're facing today with your talent, your ability and your sheer determination." Dees was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree by the California State University.
During the ceremony, SF State honored actor Jeffrey Tambor as its 2009 Alumnus of the Year. "I think there are a lot of teachers in heaven rolling their eyes right now," quipped Tambor, who earned a bachelor's degree in theatre from SF State in 1965 and went on to earn six Emmy nominations and star on Broadway in his nearly four decades as an actor.
Tambor's advice to the Class of 2009: "Love yourself. Keep your voice authentic. Don't settle. Love your partner in life, your kids and your fellow man." He ended with a nod to "Arrested Development," the critically acclaimed television show that earned Tambor two Emmy nominations and cult status among fans: "And remember as George Bluth said, 'There's always money in the banana stand.'"
When an honorary doctor of humane letters degree was conferred to Willie Mays, San Francisco Giants baseball caps were donned by the president, provost and other members of the University's platform party -- a tribute to the legendary baseball player whose Say Hey Foundation has increased access to education for underrepresented groups in the Bay Area.
"All of you graduating today, when you go in with your resume and look for a job, smile," Mays told graduates. "They won't ever give you the first job. They'll want to make you sweat. All you have to do is keep smiling, keep turning the other cheek, saying, 'I can do this.' This is how I got into baseball."
Also during the ceremony, President Corrigan awarded a President's Medal to Provost John Gemello, who will retire this summer. Before presenting the medal, Corrigan lauded Gemello for his long-time service to the University, describing him as "the most successful and popular provost in campus history."
The student speaker, Raza Studies major Jessica Aguilar, asked her fellow graduates to raise a fist and join her in making a "pledge to make our lives count." The community activist told the Class of 2009, "We will either be lost in history as yet another generation who has stayed silent and inactive, or we will be remembered as ones who finally stood tall as a collective and fought for human rights."
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