Graduates urged to follow passion, better their communities
May 22, 2010 -- At San Francisco State University's 109th Commencement today honored speakers -- an environmentalist and civil rights leader among them -- urged the Class of 2010 to follow their passion, pursue their dreams and work to better their communities.
The student speaker, Marilyn Thomas, who overcame such personal obstacles as being homeless at 15 and is now planning a career in medicine, told graduates to let go of their fear of taking risks and making mistakes. "When you are faced with something that seems like the most spectacular failure of your entire life, I want you to stop, and I want you to ask yourself, 'is this moment going to defeat me, or is this moment going to define me?'"
Quoting the comedian Milton Berle, Thomas shared her personal motto --"If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door." She urged the Class of 2010 to "go out and build some doors."
Keynote speaker Lateefah Simon, the executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, reminded graduates, "education is earned, not given." For her life's work -- advocating for the vulnerable and helping members of marginalized groups find the path to better lives -- she was honored by SF State President Robert A. Corrigan during the ceremony with a President's Medal. Simon told graduates that "the power that lies within us can reshape humanity right now."
SF State awarded diplomas to the graduating class of 2010 before a crowd of more than 20,000 guests at Cox Stadium. Diverse in their accomplishments and origins, more than 8,000 students received degrees Saturday, including 115 veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces.
SF State President Robert A. Corrigan, who presided over his 21st Commencement exercises at the University, said, "We believe it is our responsibility to educate the hearts as well as the minds. We are proud to be a university of activism, of personal responsibility…where but at San Francisco State would you find a university whose faculty has made a commitment to social justice and equity the first of its fundamental goals."
SF State honored Randall Hayes as its 2010 Alumnus of the Year. Hayes founded the Rainforest Action Network in 1985, and won the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences award for "Best Student Documentary" in 1983 for the film, "The Four Corners." Called "an environmental pitbull" by the Wall Street Journal -- a term he accepts with pride -- Hayes told the Class of 2010 that he was a shy student until an assignment in a speech class brought him out of his shell. The assignment: convince your audience that something that seems impossible can in fact be accomplished.
"Follow your particular passion. I'm sure you have something to say, don't be shy. Get out there and say it," he told the Class of 2010. "Work hard, party hard and fight on."
The California State University and SF State conferred honorary Bachelor of Humane Letters degrees on 19 Japanese American students who were removed from SF State during World War II. During the ceremony, family members of two of the 19 students were recognized on behalf of their relatives who were removed from SF State.
Also during the ceremony, President Corrigan awarded a President's Medal to Professor of Biology Frank Bayliss, who founded the Student Enrichment Opportunity office and has helped hundreds of underrepresented students succeed in the sciences. The award from President Corrigan followed an award from President Barack Obama, who presented Bayliss in January with a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring. Before presenting the medal, Corrigan commended Bayliss' accomplishments, saying, "you have made it your cause to nurture and preserve the greatest of all natural resources -- the human mind."
Bayliss also awarded a President's Medal to Vice President of University Advancement Lee Blitch, who will retire this summer. Corrigan credited Blitch with having, "sparked a renaissance in how SF State sees itself and how others see us."
SF State is the only master's-level public university serving the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin. The University enrolls more than 30,000 students each year and graduates about 8,000 annually. With nationally acclaimed programs in a range of fields -- from creative writing, cinema and biology to history, broadcast and electronic communication arts, theatre arts and ethnic studies -- the University’s more than 180,000 graduates have contributed to the economic, cultural and civic fabric of San Francisco and beyond.
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