Jeffrey Bleich, the United States Ambassador to Australia, will be making a 7,416 mile journey from Sydney, Australia to the SF State campus to receive an honorary award and speak at the graduation commencement May 21.
Bleich, a former California State University Trustee and friend of President Barack Obama for more than 20 years, will be receiving an honorary doctorate of laws for his contribution to SF State and higher education in California according to a statement released by Michael Bruntz, a University spokesman.
“Generally, the main commencement speaker is the person — or one of the persons — receiving an honorary degree at the ceremony,” said University spokeswoman Ellen Griffin. “The University’s honorary degree committee solicits suggestions and nominations from throughout the campus, makes recommendations to the president, who in turn makes nominations to the CSU Board of Trustees.”
Griffin said that this year, SF State President Robert A. Corrigan made the recommendation to the honorary degree committee and they agreed to the nomination.
“Bleich has been a long-standing advocate for human rights and social justice,” Corrigan said in a statement. “This commitment to others, and belief that all deserve equal opportunities in this life, was a guiding principle during his remarkable leadership of the CSU Board of Trustees. Today’s students— and those of tomorrow— owe a debt of gratitude to Bleich’s leadership.”
While this may seem like a major coup for the campus, students have differeing ideas regarding graduation speakers in general.
“It’s a tradition, so I’m not opposed to it,” said business and marketing graduate Mike Newman, 25. “The graduation ceremony has a lot of problems in general, but I’d rather have the university’s graduation ceremony announce each person individually.”
While Newman is not opposed to the speaker, other students are not so enthused about long-winded speeches at graduation.
“It’s a little useful, but overdone,” said Anthony Michaiel, 23, a first-year broadcast and electronics communication arts major. “It might be useful for someone who is graduating and looking for inspiration.”
With the success that Bliech has achieved, some students feel that a newer face should be speaking to the students.
“They can be inspiring,” said Kristen Torres, a consumer and family behaviors major. “But I wouldn’t mind if the speaker was someone younger who has succeeded. It would give us hope that we can come out of here with something to look forward to.”
Peter Koo, executive director of the Associated Student Inc., agrees with Torres.
“The speaker should inspire students before they go to the real world,” Koo said. “In general it should be someone people look up to and admire with a good perspective in the workforce and community.”
Bleich will be one of the two speakers at this year’s graduation.
The other speaker, George M. Marcus, “is an entrepreneur, business leader and philanthropist,” according to Bruntz’ statement. He has been a long-time supporter of the arts and higher education in California and at SF State.
Bleich was unavailable for comment at time of publication due to scheduling conflicts.