UCLA Ed & IS Commencement: Transforming Loss into Light

Graduate speakers share insights on serving society and fulfilling the hopes of those who had gone before.

Seen over the shoulders of Wasserman Dean Marcelo Suárez-Orozco as he stood at the podium at the Commencement Ceremony on June 15 was a UCLA 100 banner proclaiming the University’s achievement of “Teaching Top Teachers Since 1919.” The graduating Class of 2019 celebrated this distinction, as well as UCLA’s world-class training of library and information professionals with vocal performances of the National Anthem by Katy Likovich, a graduate of the UCLA Teacher Education Program (TEP), and the UCLA Alma Mater, sung by Amira Lyn Bennett, also a TEP graduate. Mike Hoa Nguyen, UCLA Department of Education, and Asa Wilder, UCLA Department of Information Studies, served as student marshals. 

Suárez-Orozco, who is a co-director of the Institute for Immigration, Globalization, and Education, and co-founder of Re-imagining Migration, delineated the urgent mission of this year’s graduates to serve local and global society with their education and experiences.

TEP graduate Katy Likovich gave a vocal performance of the National Anthem.

“With inequality reaching historic levels, and the concurrent [increase] of gaps in opportunities along class, race, ethnic, and immigration backgrounds, we have a clear and present danger to the very basic fabric of our nation,” said Suárez-Orozco. “The problems we face – concentrated poverty, unchecked climate change and environmental degradation, endless wars – are grave as they are urgent. 

“Whether the victims are innocent young men of color felled with impunity in American streets or the children who, in a barbaric new policy implemented at our border, are being forcefully ripped from their parents arms and caged, the excluded, the poor, the undocumented, indigenous populations, [and] the disabled… pay the greatest penalty for living in a dehumanizing time in a …throwaway culture. In the face of such [an] assault on fundamental human values, we here and now at GSE&IS reassert an education and information studies agenda, animated by the ethic of care and solidarity; the ethic of dignity and rights; the ethic of engagement and service to others.”

Jennifer Pierre (’17, MLIS) described how the road to a graduate degree was eased for her and her classmates by their support systems of peers, faculty, and families.

Jennifer Pierre (’17, MLIS), a PhD candidate in Information Studies, addressed fellow graduates of the Class of 2019 with her observations on “the concept of community” and how the rigors of graduate study were eased and supported for herself and her classmates by their peers, faculty, advisors, and families.

“When I started to reach out more to my colleagues for advice, schedule more regular Skype sessions with my family and friends, utilize campus centers and offices, and push past the idea that it was a burden to have multiple others read my work and give feedback, the path to the finish line became much clearer and brighter,” said Pierre. “The lesson that we are not alone on this path, and that we should not be, is one that I will continue to take with me in the next stage of my career and one that I hope will be of use to all of us.

“We are experiencing a cultural moment now where it is increasingly easy to both isolate ourselves or connect ourselves in a multitude of ways. It is crucial that in response, rather than design technologies, schools, and systems that center solely on individual attainment and achievement, we work to build and develop systems and tools that motivate, facilitate, and encourage and support collective achievement. As educators, technologists, researchers, library professionals, and so much more, that is what our departments are training us to do. That is what, in many ways, is at the heart of the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies here at UCLA.”

TEP graduate Krystle Palma Cobián spoke on the educational experiences that propelled her classmates to degrees and careers in education.

Krystle Palma Cobián, PhD candidate in Education, paid tribute to the late UCLA Education faculty members Professor Robert Rhoads and Stuart Biegel, Esq., as well as to departed family members whose memory propelled her fellow graduates. By a show of hands, Cobián illustrated the commitment of her classmates to redefining education through their life experiences.

“Before you set foot in a classroom here at UCLA to study and theorize systems of oppression, many of you lived them,” noted Cobián. “Those of you who had teachers and principals who told you that you would never amount to anything; those of you who grew up in neighborhoods where people of color are more likely to get arrested by the police than to go to college; those of you who were told that girls weren’t supposed to be good at math… the daily hurts, the incidents that have been etched in your veins seared into your minds – these are the losses that have shaped your worldview.

“Those are the losses that motivate you to fight back, the losses that give us inner strength, empathy, and anger – anger that we transform into action so that no one else has to go through what you went through … My fellow graduates …  turned their outrage about injustice into love for the students and the families they work with. They transform loss into literal lesson plans for their classrooms. They start organizations, they organize protests, they publish papers and books. They serve as truth tellers in an era where people don’t want to listen to the truth. They have made their ancestors’ wildest dreams a reality.”