Ed Lee to keynote SF State commencement ceremony

Edwin Lee, who became San Francisco’s first elected Asian-American mayor earlier this year, will be the keynote speaker at the SF State commencement ceremony May 19.

“The mayor is a strong supporter of higher education who appreciates the contributions SF State makes to the economic, cultural and intellectual well-being of this great city,” said President Robert A. Corrigan.

Lee’s office has a partnership with SF Promise, an initiative program that guarantees access to a college education to all students in the San Francisco Unified School District.

“We were going for somebody; a man whose career paralleled what we felt graduating students ought to go for,” said Corrigan. “His values are much like ours.”

Lee has been serving the city of San Francisco for more than 20 years. Prior to his appointment as mayor, Lee was the city administrator.

He has also served as San Francisco’s deputy director of employment relations, executive director of the Human Rights Commission, director of city purchasing and director of public works.

Some students have a different view than Corrigan about the decision to have a political official keynote the commencement ceremony.

Visual communications major, Heather Russell believes that this was a risky move on Corrigan’s part.

“It seems controversial,” said Russell, 20. “With all the Occupy movements and both elections coming up, it seems slimy and random. Maybe Corrigan wants to leave with a good impression. I don’t know, but I wouldn’t want to hear him speak.”

Junior Nili Askari agrees with Russell and wants a speaker that would inspire students, a quality she has not seen in Lee.

“I believe that the keynote speaker at the graduation should be someone who has done something important for the students and the school itself,” said Askari, 22. “It should be someone that can motivate the graduating class to help with education in the future. If the political figure had done something for education within the area, then I’d understand.”

Other students are not taking notice of this decision. Sociology major, Beth Kleinzweig, said that she is not going to attend the main ceremony.

“The ceremony is too long and it is held in May, in San Francisco,” said Kleinzweig, 22. “It’s painful to sit that long and I didn’t feel like having my friends and family sit through a long ceremony. I wasn’t too involved with the school either.”

Kleinzweig said she will be going to a separate ceremony taking place later that day, specifically for the sociology department.

Ordinarily, speakers that keynote the commencement are those set to receive an honorary degree.

However, it is not the first time SF State has had a political official. Nancy Pelosi delivered the keynote speech in 2002 and Willie Brown the year before in 2001.

Other commencement speakers include philanthropist Barbro Osher, who will receive an honorary degree, and alumnus of the year Jose Antonio Vargas.

Vargas is a graduate of SF State and in 2008 won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news as part of The Washington Post team that covered the Virginia Tech shootings.

His feature included how students connected through Facebook after the massacre was part of the prize-winning coverage.

“I attended the Bay Area Multicultural Media Academy, a two-week journalism camp for minority students. It sealed my career as a journalist,” Vargas said. “It was the first time I’d heard the idea of a career as a journalist.”

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