Villaraigosa Urges Graduates to Take Leadership Role

With a ringing vote of confidence, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa urged the Class of 2008 to assume a leadership role as part of "America's first truly global generation" at Occidental College's 126th commencement ceremony May 18 on the Occidental campus.

There are some who question whether this generation of people is up to the challenge," a view he rejects, Villaraigosa said in his remarks. "I see a generation booming with confidence and optimism. I see a generation that, as a whole, refuses to sit back and take 'no' for an answer. I see the first generation ever to combine such a fierce sense of ambition with such a clear rejection of blind careerism."

Even the sweltering heat could not mar the enthusiasm of the 464 graduates and their friends and families at the traditional ceremony in the Remsen Bird Hillside Theater. President Robert Skotheim also conferred three honorary degrees on Antonia Hernández, president of the California Community Foundation, Robert Greenstein, founder and executive director of Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and computer technology pioneer Ronald E. Rider '67. (Mayor Villaraigosa previously received an honorary degree from Occidental in 2006.)

The mayor praised Occidental's spirit of engagement with the wider world and its ability to produce well-rounded graduates who will make critical decisions about America's path and its relationship with the greater global community. "It's this spirit that has always put Oxy on the leading edge of opportunity, a commitment proven in the fact that you have more Pell Grant recipients and low-income students than any other leading liberal arts college," he said. "It's this spirit that has always put Oxy on the leading edge of diversity. It's why you consistently rank as the liberal arts college most seriously devoted to building a student body that looks like Los Angeles. Like California, like America, and, yes, increasingly, like the world."

He noted that the Occidental spirit has produced "sons and daughters [who] have led their peers in fields ranging from business to entertainment to science to public service to the arts." His reference to one of Occidental's most famous sons, Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama '83, was met with loud cheers.

"It is up to you," Villaraigosa said, urging graduates to "make some noise; to shake the foundations; to stand up and speak up as unapologetic and unflagging proponents and defenders of the values of humanism."