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‘I See Our Future and It Looks Amazing’ Commencement speaker Janet Murguía urges UCLA Luskin graduates to use their 'public affairs nerd' superpowers for good

By Mary Braswell

As members of UCLA Luskin’s Class of 2019 walked across the commencement stage to receive their hard-earned master’s and doctoral degrees, each took on a new mantle: Advocate. Warrior. Watchdog.

And don’t forget “Superhero.”

“I believe being a public affairs nerd is in fact a superpower, one that if used for good can transform the lives of millions of people,” keynote speaker Janet Murguía told the 260 graduates at the June 14 ceremony at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

Murguía, president and CEO of UnidosUS, the nation’s largest Latino civil rights organization, challenged the graduates to put their educations to work in the world — a feat requiring determination, patience and resilience.

“Your degree and everything it represents can be a force for good,” she said. “We desperately need people with your talents to help us defend and build that more perfect union.”

The newly minted policy, social welfare and planning scholars and professionals are entering the workforce at a pivotal time, UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura said.

“The next 18 months are among the most important in the history of this nation. We face a critical time in deciding who we are as a people, what values matter to Americans and what our historic role is in human history,” Segura said.

“I want to thank you, perhaps prematurely, for all that we expect you to do with all that you have learned.”

Segura shared the stage with faculty members from every department, noting, “Luskin faculty engage the world as it is, to diagnose and hopefully help address our many challenges.” The hiring of 14 faculty members over two years and the fast expansion of the new undergraduate major in Public Affairs are just two measures of the School’s growth, he said.

Following the conferral of degrees, crowds surrounded the graduates at an outdoor reception, offering congratulations, taking photos and admiring regalia decorated with “UCLA 100 Years” to mark the university’s Centennial Celebration. Mortarboards showed off personal touches, often thanking families and friends who buoyed the graduates as they worked toward this milestone day.

Student speakers echoed that spirit of gratitude throughout the commencement ceremony.

Robert Gamboa of Public Policy memorialized his twin brother, Albert, who died seven years ago. “His passing was one of those crystal-clear moments when everything and nothing made sense,” Gamboa said. “But I knew then that I must double down my efforts to fight for social justice.”

Gamboa’s classmates represented different backgrounds and value systems, he said, “and yet we came together as one. We found something in common, something at our very core, something that led us here to Luskin to expand our knowledge. And that something has energized us, guiding us, creating a bridge to change — smart, systemic, lasting change that will save lives.”

Social Welfare speaker Gabriela Andreina Peraza Angulo told her classmates, “The world really needs us right now, maybe more than ever. Injustice, greed, inequity, racism, forces of discrimination, of violence, of exclusion. Forces of sexism. And did I mention racism? All of these forces are gaining in strength. …

“But they’re not counting on us. Here we are. And we’re ready to build those bridges instead of a wall, we’re ready to connect instead of divide.”

Caroline Calderon urged her Urban Planning classmates to challenge power structures in a rousing address that incorporated oral histories she conducted with about 15 of her peers.

“We have seen the possibilities of radical community action,” she said. “Our commitment involves sharing the knowledge we have and being humble about that knowledge, and recognizing the power and privilege that we have been given.

“This is our commitment, to be accountable to our own convictions and values, to be accountable to poor people, to black and brown communities, not in words but in action.”

Three students received special honors at commencement. The Public Policy Student Award went to Lindsay Graef, who earned her MPP and MSW concurrently. Michelé Dianne-Shaunte Jones won the Social Welfare Student Award, and Jacob Wasserman won the Urban Planning Student Award.

Murguía’s address included a poignant tribute to her parents, who instilled a sense of purpose and possibility in their seven children.

“Two humble, simple people from Tangancícuaro, Michoacán, in Mexico with little means worked very hard, sacrificed much and dedicated themselves to the education of their family, and to the service and care of their community. I am a witness to — and in many ways evidence of — their belief in the American Dream,” she said.

“However your generation defines the American Dream, I know that, like my parents, you will leave the world a better place than you found it,” Murguía said. “You know how I know? As I look out at you today, graduation day, I see our future and it looks amazing. I can’t wait to see where your superpowers will take us.”

View a slideshow of commencement highlights:

View a photo gallery on Flickr:

Commencement 2019

View a video of the entire commencement ceremony:

UnidosUS President Janet Murguía will deliver the keynote address at the June 14 UCLA Luskin Commencement. Photo courtesy of Violetta Markelou Photography

National Civil Rights Leader Named 2019 Commencement Speaker Longtime UnidosUS President Janet Murguía has worked to amplify the Latino voice on issues such as education, health care, immigration, civil rights and the economy

By Les Dunseith

Janet Murguía, president and CEO of the nation’s largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organization, has been named the 2019 Commencement speaker for the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Murguía has led UnidosUS since 2005. She will deliver the keynote address during the UCLA Luskin ceremony at 9 a.m. on June 14 at Royce Hall on the UCLA campus.

“Janet Murguía is an inspiration as a woman, a Latina, and a thoughtful and passionate advocate for social justice,” Luskin School Dean Gary Segura said. “In this very difficult time for the Latino population, I am excited to hear her share her insights and determination — developed and refined over decades of advocacy — with our graduating class.”

‘Janet Murguía is an inspiration as a woman, a Latina, and a thoughtful and passionate advocate for social justice.’

— Dean Gary Segura

During her tenure at the organization, which changed its name from the National Council of La Raza in 2017, Murguía has sought to strengthen the work of UnidosUS and enhance its record of impact as a vital American institution. Murguía has also sought to amplify the Latino voice on issues such as education, health care, immigration, civil rights and the economy.

A native of Kansas City, Kansas, Murguía earned bachelor’s degrees in journalism and Spanish, and a juris doctorate, from the University of Kansas. She has also received honorary degrees from Cal State Dominguez Hills, Wake Forest University and Williams College.

Murguía began her career in Washington, D.C., as legislative counsel to former U.S. Rep. Jim Slattery from her home state. She worked with the congressman for seven years before joining the Clinton administration, where she served for six years as a deputy assistant to President Bill Clinton, including deputy director of legislative affairs.

Murguía went on to serve as deputy campaign manager and director of constituency outreach for the 2000 presidential campaign of Democrat Al Gore, during which she was the primary liaison between former Vice President Gore and national constituency groups.

In 2001, Murguía returned to the University of Kansas as executive vice chancellor for university relations, where she oversaw KU’s internal and external relations with the public. She is credited with coordinating the university’s strategic planning and marketing efforts at KU’s four campuses.

Over the course of her career, Murguía has been featured in various magazines and newspapers for her work and leadership. This includes being highlighted on Hispanic Business Magazine’s “100 Top Latinas” and “100 Most Influential Hispanics” lists, Washingtonian magazine’s “100 Most Powerful Women in Washington,” the NonProfit Times’ list of top 50 leaders of “Power and Influence,” People En Español’s “100 Most Influential Hispanics,” Newsweek’s third annual women and leadership issue, Poder magazine’s “The Poderosos 100,” Latino Leaders magazine’s “101 Top Leaders of the Hispanic Community” and Hispanic magazine’s “Powerful Latinos.”

Murguía was the first Latino to give the keynote speech at the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Unity Breakfast in Birmingham, Alabama. And she received Alpha Phi’s Frances E. Willard Award in 2018.

Murguía is currently a board member of Achieve, an independent and nonpartisan education reform nonprofit organization, and the Hispanic Association for Corporate Responsibility. She also serves as a member of diversity advisory councils for Bank of America, Charter Communications, Comcast/NBC Universal and Wells Fargo.

Learn more about the 2019 Commencement at UCLA Luskin.

 

‘Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable’ In commencement address, Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey issues a call to action to more than 200 change agents from Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning

By Stan Paul

Before conferring hard-won master’s and doctoral degrees upon the 2018 graduating class of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, Dean Gary Segura gave one last assignment:

“Act! Act on … any of a dozen major challenges facing the United States and the world. Act! Make this world better. Make this country what it aspires to be.

“Our celebration today is less about what you’ve already done and far more about what you are expected to do,” Segura told the more than 200 Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning students graduating before an audience of family, friends and faculty in UCLA’s historic Royce Hall on June 15, 2018.

Following the conferral of degrees, the celebration continued at an outdoor reception. The sea of black graduation gowns was brightened by a rainbow of tassels and academic regalia, along with elaborately decorated mortarboards that told the students’ stories, if in a few words:

“For my family that dreams beyond borders.” “53, got my degree.” “Every end is a new beginning.” One message, in Spanish, thanked parents … and coffee. Another honored the past and projected hope for future generations: “I am my ancestor’s wildest dreams.”

One UCLA Luskin grad who put his degree to good use is William R. “Rusty” Bailey MPP ’99, who is now in his second term as mayor of Riverside, California.

“Rusty Bailey’s leadership of Riverside has been characterized by a willingness to put human well-being at the forefront of his city’s agenda,” Segura said, introducing the keynote speaker. The dean cited Bailey’s focus on serving the city’s homeless, encouraging green development, enhancing mass transit and supporting the arts for his hometown of more than 300,000.

Bailey recalled the two decades since he was admitted to the first MPP class at UCLA Luskin.

“I was sitting where you were almost 20 years ago,” said the West Point graduate and former city councilman. “This institution gave me the tools, the confidence and the network I needed to achieve my ultimate career goal of serving as the mayor of my hometown. …

“If there’s any group of people prepared to tackle these issues and others I’ve mentioned, it is you — UCLA Luskin School graduates,” said Bailey, who was named MPP Alumnus of the Year in 2013. “You are equipped with a well-rounded toolkit that includes social advocacy, policy analysis and community development along with an incredible network of professors, research centers and alumni to keep you encouraged, motivated and accountable.”

Bailey cautioned, “You better get comfortable being uncomfortable,” but added, “Luskin has prepared you to handle it.”

Like the dean, Bailey ended his speech with a challenge for the graduates: “Let’s make it happen. Go out into this world and make things happen for your neighbors, for your families and for humanity.”

‘I refuse to let this diploma allow my fight to fade.
The work does not end when we cross the stage.’

— Student speaker Gabriela Hernandez

Student speakers representing each Luskin School department underscored the message that their work is not done.

“We did it, but we didn’t do it alone,” said MPP Ramandeep Kaur, the daughter of immigrants who spoke for her classmates in thanking those who made their accomplishments possible. “Hopefully now we can explain what public policy means,” she joked.

Kaur said that public policy has historically been used to support discriminatory practices in housing, zoning ordinances, transportation and labor. “But in my hands, in our hands, it can mean so much more,” she said. “In our hands, having a master’s in public policy means having the tools to upend the status quo and disrupt those narratives.

“As change agents, we’re going to rewrite history and those unjust public policies.”

Urban Planning student speaker Aleli Balaguer said her fellow graduates have been more than just classmates during the rigorous two-year program.

“They are kind, passionate, honest, forthright and unwavering in their vision,” Balaguer said. Coming from very different backgrounds, they shared family stories over meals and traveled the globe together, from New Orleans to Mexico to Japan, the Philippines and Indonesia, she said.

“We hosted each other in our families’ homes and worked on group projects until the sun rose, and we presented at Google and multiple city halls,” she said. But, most importantly for Balaguer, “We imagined better, more equitable cities together.”

Social Welfare class speaker Gabriela Hernandez told her fellow students and audience members, “Today, after years of difficult work, I have reclaimed my anger. I am no longer ashamed to be angry. I call my anger passion.”

She recited a poem recounting her journey in the MSW program to “remind us that no matter how far from slavery and segregation we have gone, there is still hella work to be done.”

Her poem concluded:

“The work does not end when you cross the stage/
You were born to fight for life/
I refuse to let this diploma allow my fight to fade/
The work does not end when we cross the stage/
It marks the beginning/
Let my words sink in, feel what you got to feel then please turn that page/
The work does not end when we cross the stage/
Smile because you deserve it, but do not forget those still trapped in a cage/
The work does not end when you cross the stage/
You call it rage, you call it anger, it’s passion/
Let us hold each other up, together, let us take action”

This year, Segura said, the Luskin School has been true to its mission: improving the quality of life for individuals, families and communities. Students and faculty have taken on issues including greenhouse gas abatement, prison population reduction, gentrification, gun violence, home ownership and homelessness in Los Angeles, and economic development across Asia, Africa and Latin America, he said.

But the challenges that lie ahead are great, he warned.

“We live in perilous times. You enter a career in public well-being at a time when longstanding assumptions about our values as a society are challenged in ways most of us had never imagined possible,” Segura said.

Of the separation of migrant families at the nation’s border, he said: “Today, here in the United States of America, 10,000 children are being held in detention, in cages, with foil blankets, ripped from their parents’ arms. Over 1,400 of them have been misplaced, gone missing, some likely into child trafficking. The country plans to build a camp — a camp — to hold 5,000 more children.”

The dean then asked pointedly, “What are you going to do about this? Indeed, what am I going to do about this?”

Segura sent the newly minted change agents into the world with the words of Henry David Thoreau, “Be not simply good; be good for something.”

View additional photos from UCLA Luskin Commencement 2018 on Flickr:

 

Commencement 2018

Riverside Mayor ‘Rusty’ Bailey Named Commencement Speaker The 1999 Public Policy alumnus will give keynote address at UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs ceremony on June 15

By George Foulsham

William R. “Rusty” Bailey, the mayor of Riverside, California, has been named the 2018 Commencement speaker for the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Bailey, a 1999 Public Policy graduate of the Luskin School and the school’s Public Policy Alumnus of the Year in 2013, will speak during the Luskin ceremony at 9 a.m. on June 15 at Royce Hall on the UCLA campus.

“The Honorable Rusty Bailey is a distinguished leader, an innovator and a model of the sort of informed and compassionate elected official which reflects our best nature,” Luskin School Dean Gary Segura said. “As the leader of the 12th-largest city of California, Rusty has a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities which face our state and its amazing, diverse population. We are proud to call him a Luskin alum and even prouder that he will join us as our commencement speaker this year.”

Bailey is a Riverside native who has served as mayor of his hometown since 2012, having previously been a member of the city council. His family came to Riverside in 1914 and has a long history of service to the community.

After graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point with a degree in political science in 1994, Bailey worked in a variety of public service positions locally and in Washington, D.C.

Bailey was elected to the Riverside City Council in 2007, representing Ward 3, and took office on Dec 11, 2007. He was re-elected in 2011 and served in that role until he was elected mayor in November 2012. He took office on Dec 11, 2012, and was re-elected in June 2016.

Bailey is a member of the Western Riverside Council of Governments and its executive committee. He also serves on the Southern California Association of Governments Regional Council 68 and on its Transportation Committee.

Bailey’s accomplishments include serving as a helicopter pilot, platoon leader and company executive officer in the U.S. Army; earning a two-year Presidential Management Fellowship; and working for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Executive Office of the President in Washington D.C.  Bailey also served as a legislative aide for County Supervisor John F. Tavaglione and worked at the Riverside County Economic Development Agency. He spent more than a decade as a teacher at Poly High School in Riverside and served as a member of Riverside’s Cultural Heritage Board.

Bailey lives in Riverside with his wife, Judy, a former elementary and middle school teacher, and his daughters, Elizabeth and Julia.

Learn more about the 2018 Commencement at UCLA Luskin.

Eric Garcetti Named 2017 Commencement Speaker Mayor of Los Angeles will deliver keynote address at UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs ceremony on June 16

By George Foulsham

Eric Garcetti, the 42nd mayor of Los Angeles, has been named the 2017 Commencement speaker for the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Garcetti will speak during the Luskin ceremony at 9 a.m. on June 16 at Royce Hall on the UCLA campus.

“Mayor Eric Garcetti’s pathbreaking efforts on behalf of transportation infrastructure, livable Los Angeles communities and forward-thinking governance has had transformative impact on the City of Los Angeles and, indeed, the entire region,” said Gary Segura, dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “Beyond his passionate work on the expansion of the region’s transportation network, he has used the office of the mayor to advance focused efforts toward reducing homelessness, enhancing environmental sustainability, and creating a safer and more just Los Angeles.

“This form of governance is a perfect reflection of the Luskin School’s intellectual commitment to human well-being at all levels,” Segura added. “It is our privilege to welcome him as our 2017 Commencement Speaker.”

Garcetti was first elected mayor of L.A. in 2013 and won re-election in this year’s municipal election. According to the mayor’s website, his “back to basics” agenda is focused on job creation and solving everyday problems for L.A. residents.

Garcetti was elected four times by his peers to serve as president of the Los Angeles City Council from 2006 to 2012. From 2001 until taking office as mayor, he served as the councilmember representing the 13th District, which includes Hollywood, Echo Park, Silver Lake and Atwater Village.

Garcetti was raised in the San Fernando Valley and earned his B.A. and M.A. from Columbia University. He is the son of former L.A. County District Attorney Gil Garcetti.

Eric Garcetti studied as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and the London School of Economics and has taught at Occidental College and USC. A fourth-generation Angeleno, he and his wife, Amy Elaine Wakeland, have a young daughter. He is a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve and is an avid jazz pianist and photographer.

Learn more about the 2017 Commencement at UCLA Luskin.