Steven Seth Funk ('13, Ed.D.) and Daniel Phipps ('13, MLIS) addressed their classmates with words of encouragement, challenges in their respective fields.
Touches of humor and poignancy were the hallmark of the 2013 Commencement Exercises of the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies on June 15, which also marked the 90th such ceremony for students of UCLA’s Department of Education, and the 52nd for the Department of Information Studies (originally the UCLA School of Library Service). This year’s student speakers Daniel Phipps and Steven Seth Funk emphasized the role that their educations at GSE&IS would play in their respective careers. Phipps, a candidate for the Masters Degree in Library and Information Science, compared the work of librarians and archivists to that of saving people from intellectual death as “zombies.” Funk, a candidate for the Doctorate of Education in Leadership, shared the personal narrative that led to his pursuit of an advanced degree and exhorted his classmates to become a positive part of their future students’ life stories.
GSE&IS Dean Marcelo Suárez-Orozco welcomed the Class of 2013, their families and their friends to the ceremony, and charged the graduates to “Go out there and change the world.”
“Moving forward, we expect much of you,” he said. “For what is at stake for public education is nothing more and nothing less than what is fundamental to our democracy: our ability to provide the next generation with the basic tools, competencies, and sensibilities to thrive in the global economies and societies of the 21st Century.
“Education, at its root, is about human flourishing,” noted Suárez-Orozco. “It is the foundation for an engaged, mindful citizenry to intelligently gather relevant information and deliberate to decide the momentous issues of the day. We hope that you have made the GSE&IS ethic of education and information in the service of social justice your own . . . for nourishing the dignified, engaged and autonomous life.”
In his graduation address, Phipps commented on the fast-paced and continuous evolution of the library and information fields that he and his fellow graduates were about to enter.
“Our field is completely different from what it was ten years ago, and it will be completely different again,” he said. “Some of us have been learning to work in the library system. Others have learned how to archive letters, films, and data sets. My fellow graduates have studied children’s librarianship and user experience in equal measure. You can go through this program over three times and not learn the same thing twice.”
Phipps also emphasized the “mission” of IS graduates to save the world from ignorance and ennui, a mission that he attributed to Dr. Gregory Leazer, Chair of the Department of Information Studies, as part that professor’s welcome to new students of the program.
“There is one core pillar, one philosophical through line that unites us all,” said Phipps. “We are here to kill zombies. While the zombies of ‘Night of the Living Dead’ stagger and groan, the zombies that we’re up against are defined by their eye-roll and sneer. They don’t have time for new ideas, and the thick skin of cynicism protects them from the highs and lows from ever getting excited.
“But somewhere, buried deep under layers of irony and atrophy from years of disuse, there lies a beating heart,” stated Phipps. “There’s an author, a poet, an engineer, or a scientist in there somewhere. All it takes is to see the stars and the distant suns, to hear what makes a human a hero… to kill zombies and leave [human beings] in their wake.”
Phipps underscored the importance of keeping abreast of technology in the library and information fields, without losing sight of the core purpose of educating the public through these fields.
“There is a generation growing up as we speak, who are going to need information in ways we can’t predict,” he said. “And we are going to be there.
“We leave today to enter a world where we will be judged by the size of our collections, by the patrons we attract, by website hits and download speeds. These things are all important, but if we’re not careful, we can be tricked into thinking these are the things we are here to do. We may never hear it again, but we are here to take care of people. To tap into a fast-moving culture through genealogies and romance novels in equal measure; to keep their histories safe, and to provide a place to find those histories again. We’re going to foster knowledge, fight ignorance where we find it, and most important, we are going to take care of our zombies.”
Funk invited his classmates to consider that, “we have just finished a great adventure story,” and noted that one’s life is like a narrative.
“Each of us is our own protagonist, making our way through various plots,” said Funk. And we’re trying – especially we who believe in the transformative power of education – to make decisions that make our stories matter.
“We’ve all met students who seem to make the wrong decision at the end of every chapter of their lives. Many of these students face personal challenges that are unimaginable. If these students had the opportunity, the courage, the inspiration to create their own stories… theirs’ would be the narratives with surprise twists in the plot, seemingly apathetic characters with soft spots for the beauty in life, and a penchant for good poetry.”
Funk described “a student” whose exploits in elementary and junior high school – and which included a penchant for forged excuse notes, pranks against his teachers, and repeated detention – and then revealed that the student was actually himself.
“This kid wasn’t malicious,” said Funk. “He had an inquisitive mind, and occasionally, he thought about putting it to good use. Once, he told his big brother that he wanted to earn a doctorate one day and change schools for the better. Laughing, his brother said that pigs would fly the day he had to call his little brother Dr. Steven Funk.
“Many of us here today have exceeded others’ expectations as well as our own. And if we sit quietly for a moment, we can hear the flutter of those pigs’ wings.”
Funk thanked his 10th grade English teacher – whom he said gracefully survived the sarcasm of her students despite being named Candy Kane – and who believed in him and his untapped abilities despite his reputation as a problem student. He exhorted his fellow graduates to see beyond the appearances and outward behavior of their students and to endeavor to bring out their best in spite of it.
“Instead of being afraid of my rebellious streak, [Miss Kane] capitalized upon it,” said Funk. “She taught me to use my words to narrate my way into a better life. She told me that my voice was distinct, unique.
“May we all have the tenacity to see a challenge, whether it be a defiant student or a confrontational coworker, as an individual who has a story to tell,” said Funk. “And may we see ourselves as characters in their stories. What we do with our learning and training has the power to alter narratives we thought were published and archived.
“May we all continue to hone our craft, to explore alternate endings, and to remember the people who gave us the courage to create our own adventures,” said Funk. “I’d like for us to remember that as we continue to shape the stories of our lives, our decisions also affect the narratives of our students and of other educators. They will look to us as UCLA graduates, as professionals.”
At the conclusion, Leslie Echols, a candidate for the Doctorate of Philosophy in Education, sang the National Anthem, and Michelle Deco, a candidate for the Master of Education Degree in Student Affairs, sang the UCLA Alma Mater song.