This is Gustavo, writing from the past. I've scheduled this post to go live at 6:30 p.m, probably just a couple of minutes after I gave this speech at UCLA commencement ceremony. These are my prepared remarks–I'm not planning to stray from them unless some people not happy with me say something…anyhoo, enjoy and ridicule!
UPDATED: Text is after the jump. Not reflected in my comments was my opening greeting, where I asked students how many of them were from OC. Quite a few, judging by the cheers. I then made a crack about how all of our idiots go to USC–afterward, I explained to quizzical deans about how our lords historically went there as a finishing school, and they all laughed. Also? Student speaker and Irvine resident Flavia de la Fuente's speech rocked so much she earned a well-deserved standing ovation even though she did a prolonged plug for the DREAM Act. Amazing young lady. Now, the speech.
Click here for the video–watch the students react glumly at the very end!
foremost, congratulations to ustedes–that's “y'all,” in Spanish, and
that's a word
I'll use often today because American English never quite gave us a
formal second-person plural–congrats for graduating from UCLA.
Ustedes should be proud of yourselves, but make sure to thank those mensches that helped you along the way–parents, siblings, relatives, friends, professors, mentors, everyone. “No man is an island,” John Donne wrote nearly four centuries ago, and it's one of those clichés repeated ad naseum, because it's the truth.
I am not the best choice to speak at UCLA's commencement, I admit. I haven't won any major awards, am not a household name, or have a savings account in the five figures. Honestly, I have only begun to live life. Really, there is but one feather in my proverbial cap worthy of all the praise on Earth, one that connects me to all of you–I am a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles.
I want to acknowledge some people before I proceed with my remarks. Thank you to the committee that selected me to speak. Obrigado to the powers that be for granting me a great parking spot for this afternoon. Merci to the workers who constructed this stage and made Drake beautiful. Of course, gracias to my parents, who are here today, Mexican immigrants–one who first came to the States in the trunk of a Chevy, my father–both of whom never attended junior high yet produced three college graduates, two of them proud Bruins.
And a special thanks to those of you who didn't want me here. I only regret that the Facebook group created against me didn't have more members than the one set up last year against James Franco.
In retrospect, my grad school years–most of you were teenagers between 2001 and 2003, when I attended UCLA–they were heady days. Tuition wasn't too high, our country was entering a boom period, and a job at the OC Weekly waited for me upon graduation. Unfortunately, that is not the America that greets ustedes tomorrow. Tonight, celebrate your tremendous accomplishment–but before slipping into bed, pray for the strength and resolve that ustedes will need for yourselves and the rest of us. For a turbulent country greets you with uncertainty, vitriol, and a hole in the Gulf of Mexico spewing black sludge like some Freudian wound. But there is hope, in the form of a challenge I offer all of you: join the millions of young adults that faced similar abysses in the past and profoundly, positively changed this country.
I'm a reporter by trade, and when I'm not debunking nasty stereotypes about Mexicans or exposing Orange County's pedophile priests and their apologists, I love to write articles about history. It's fascinating to observe the past influence the present, to watch social tumult repeat itself almost incident by incident in different decades. The United States has gone through trying eras before–the Panic of 1893, internment of Japanese-Americans, anti-immigrant hysteria. And at each turn, the young people who lived through such troubles persevered and pushed America forward. Union soldiers returned and reconstructed the Republic after the Civil War; those who became of age during the Great Depression became the Greatest Generation, and the brave men and women who confronted segregation and discrimination forced our country to live up to the Declaration of Independence's promise that all men are created equal.
I hope that ustedes will face our Great Recession–a symptom of larger, more troubling problems that require resolution sooner rather than later–you'll face them with great deeds, like your predecessors. I see it in the Class of 2010 already. I see it in those of you, working two–even more–jobs to try and reach ever-escalating tuition, while taking a full course load each quarter. I noted such spirit in the seniors who protested said tuition hikes last fall, not content to let undergrads suffer the hikes. I admire such gumption every day in the life of Matias Ramos, my former intern at the OC Weekly–and an undocumented college student. Every day, despite the threat of forced repatriation to a birthplace he barely knows, Matias nevertheless works to improve himself and his country along with his fellow American Dreamers, many of whom are graduating today. Think what you will of our current immigration wars, but their courage is not to be simply dismissed as weepy-moany propaganda. It is the type of character our nation has demanded from Her people in her hours of need, and the character of these Bruins is one to which all of us should aspire and support.
I know ustedes will heed my challenge, to join the American story of unspectacular, faceless, non-famous heroes. And part of that hard-times narrative is empathy. You might have noticed the picket line outside Drake before this ceremony. They asked me not to give this speech, in order to draw attention to their plight. These workers–the people who served you food, cleaned your bathrooms and dorms, kept everything humming during your studies here–are facing furloughs, loss of hours, and other financial cuts that are devastating their families. It's easy to dismiss them as malcontents trying to ruin your special day, but they're not: they are members of our UCLA familia. Before you leave, if you haven't already, approach them. Thank them for their hard work, and ask them to tell you their story. And then raise Cain with those responsible for slashing the funds and budgets that imperil our beautiful campus and its faithful students and employees.
I trust you will take my challenge. I leave the path to ustedes. Start businesses. Join them. Help others. Help yourself. Do what you have to do. The future might seem daunting, but know others have trod the same bleak road now before you. In 1932, a recent college graduate went to the bank the day before his wedding to withdraw funds. He found the bank shuttered–it had gone out of business overnight. The young man's life savings was gone. But the 22-year-old didn't despair or let the nation's woes bring him down–he married his high school sweetheart soon after, and went to work immediately. Those tough years forged his character and life vision, traits he brought to Westwood about 16 years later, in 1948. That young man was John Wooden, may God rest his soul.
Yes, Class of 2010–Coach Wooden once was a college graduate nervous about the future. And I am sure he'd be the first to say that if an Indiana farm boy could make his life a masterpiece and better us all in the process, then so can you. Good luck with life, and I hope and know and trust ustedes will etch your names in history. God bless.