Saturday, June 12, 2010

Commencement speaker choices: the controversial and the unimaginative

     A month or two ago, owing I think to Rebel Girl’s efforts, the “commencement speaker” committee at Irvine Valley College forwarded two names to the President of the College, and one of those names was that of our pal Gustavo Arellano, the syndicated columnist who writes for the OC Weekly.
     The other one wasn’t bad exactly. Jack Scott is the State Chancellor of the the Community College System; he's a former state senator and nice guy, or so I’m told.
     When we heard the news, the Reb and I looked at each other. We knew where this was headed. The people at the top of the food chain in our world aren’t exactly known for their imagination. I think they think a college is like a Chamber of Commerce with a gym. They hate controversy.
     Sure enough, the Prez selected Scott, the safe and predictably boring choice. (His speech turned out to be pedestrian--even corny--but it appears that he is indeed a nice guy.)
     But, as it turns out, at about the same time that our Prez was ensuring our future boredom, the UCLA commencement speaker people (I doubt that they forward finalists’ names to the President, cuz UCLA is a real university with real academic values) had settled on an interesting choice: Gustavo.
     We were happy for the fella, sad for us.
     Then, of course, as so often happens, things got all messy and difficult, for the union of custodial and cafeteria workers at UCLA went on strike and called on supporters not to speak at commencement.
     Meanwhile, as occurred last year, some UCLA students and their parents found the speaker selection unacceptable. They left some hilariously unpleasant messages on Gustavo's message machine, which he has made available on his blog. (What gets into people?)
     Gustavo, being the kind of guy he is, relished his infamy among these rude and crude Neanderthals. He also decided that he would do the speech, despite his support of the union.
     The Times’ Larry Gordon wrote about Gustavo’s speech yesterday (you can also read his speech here):

Columnist urges UCLA grads to thank campus workers

     Gustavo Arellano, the writer of the satiric "¡Ask a Mexican!" column in the OC Weekly, delivered a commencement speech Friday night to UCLA’s College of Letters and Science and took note of two groups that did not want him there.
     Labor unions had asked Arellano and other University of California graduation speakers to drop out of the ceremonies in solidarity with workers’ protests against UC.
     Arellano instead urged the 4,500 graduates to thank the custodians and cafeteria workers for their hard work and "to raise Cain with those responsible for slashing the funds and budgets that imperil our beautiful campus and its faithful employees," according to an advance text.
     Arellano, who earned a master’s in Latin American studies at UCLA in 2003, also mentioned critics who said he was not enough of a celebrity to merit the honor. "I only regret that the Facebook group created against me didn’t have more members than the one students created last year against James Franco," he said jokingly.
     Franco, the film actor who also is a UCLA alumnus, dropped out as speaker last year, saying work obligations had kept him abroad, but some students suspected that he did not want to face similar protests against his selection.
     In his speech, Arellano praised former UCLA basketball Coach John Wooden, who died last week at age 99, describing the coach as a model of fortitude in tough times. Arellano said that Wooden, then a young man, had lost his life savings in the banking collapse of the Great Depression but was undeterred.
     "Yes, Class of 2010, Coach Wooden 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, so can you."
     The graduation ceremony included a special tribute to Wooden, featuring a procession of athletes and other students carrying flags.


Anonymous said...

Maybe we can have Gustavo at IVC next year.

Gustavo Arellano said...

Gracias for posting and the kind words!

Anonymous said...

I love The Mexican but Tom Fuentes would never allow him to speak at either college, don't you think?

Anonymous said...

Maybe he could be a speaker at ATEP.

Anonymous said...

I thought the IVC faculty - association? union? - sponsors a speaker series. If so, wouldn't it just be a matter of inviting Gustavo and others of interest to an academic community? Count me in!

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