Their time in the sun: joy and inspiration at 2013 commencement

grad2013, 1.jpg
Crowds were large and enthusiastic for the 2013 commencement celebrations at UCSC (photos by Dan White)
grad2013,2.jpg
Friends and family cheered on graduates with signs, cheers, chants and songs. 
grad2013,3.jpg
Graduate students preparing to receive their degrees. 
grad2013,4.jpg
A soon-to-be graduate enjoys a reflective moment at East Field. 
grad2013,5.jpg
Family members showed their love and support for the graduates. 
grad2013,7.jpg
Posing for photographs during Friday afternoon's commencement activities. 

The weather was warm and breezy and the speakers were inspiring at UC Santa Cruz’s 2013 commencement celebrations, which attracted throngs of well-wishers and myriad speakers. More than 4,600 students received degrees across the weekend.

The sun was out, and celebrants – and even some of the graduating students – wore fresh-flower leis. Audience members waved hand-made signs and displayed messages printed on oversized helium baloons. On Friday afternoon, during the commencement celebration for graduate students, one young woman, carrying her infant son, cheered so loudly for her graduating sister that the baby woke up and started crying. 

“It’s OK, sweetie,” she said to the startled, sobbing baby. “We were only shouting because we were happy!”

Commencement ceremonies honored 4,195 candidates for bachelor degrees for work completed in the arts, engineering, humanities, physical and biological sciences, and social sciences. Spring candidates for bachelor degrees total 2,579, according to the UC Santa Cruz registrar's office. Another 1,616 completed coursework in the summer, fall, or winter quarters.

UCSC's Class of 2013 is filled with students who are ready to make a difference in the world — and, in many cases, already have. Consider the stories of these four graduates:
• Emerson Glassey
• Juan Ledesma
• Elizabeth Devitt
• Carson Watts

There were many inspirational moments across the weekend. Among them: watching high-performing astronomy graduate students getting “hooded” by the likes of University Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics Sandra Faber, listening to the inspirational remarks of U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards at the College Eight commencement, and watching a new generation of Slug alumni throw their caps high in the air.

During her keynote address at Oakes College on Saturday, Audries Blake, daughter of founding Oakes College provost Herman Blake, told graduates to dream big and never give up. As one of her illustrations, she talked about “short” basketball players who had to work extra hard to win the confidence of their “height-dominant” teammates.

She also referred to the story of her father and his dream of a UCSC college that would welcome and encourage “underrepresented students … typically not seen within academia or the UC system.”

“If you were to look into his background,” she continued, “there would be no way it would seem possible that he could do what has been done. Born before the civil rights movement began, he was poor, black, from a single-parent home with few options for the future.”

But Herman Blake was ambitious. “He loved to read, and had a voracious appetite for all things," said Audries Blake, development assistant at UCSC's Division of Social Sciences. "Freedom was within education, and what my father received, he was determined to bring …  to any person of color, any person from within impoverished communities, any person marginalized by society’s expectations or demeaning categorizations. Freedom was within education. He was here for a purpose.”

“And, here you are today, sitting where he wanted you to be, where he saw you, prepared for the moment where you would walk out into the world, educated, equipped with the knowledge that occurs when you engage your mind in scholarship, and experience the transformation that occurs as a result. You are about to take everything that you have attained and lead the way for so many.”

Kresge College graduates gave a standing ovation to commencement speaker Megan Kostecka, a graduating Kresge senior who found a compassionate, healing community at UCSC after a horrific experience on the East Coast.  

After being beaten viciously by a mugger while enrolled in Boston University, she returned to her home in California. Kostecka decided to go back to college "and learn how to be a functioning 18-year-old again." She applied to all nine UC campuses for admission. UC Santa Cruz not only told her 'yes.' She even received a personal voice mail from the university: "we are rooting for you." 

"You may not have known it," Kostecka told the crowd, "but your compassion and kindness brought me back to life. Looking into the crowd I see a multiplicity of races, genders, personalities, and majors, yet I know we share one common virtue: compassion ... I do not know the causal relationship between compassion and UCSC. I don’t know if simply belonging to this community makes you a more caring individual or if we recruit students who excel in active empathy.  Whatever the origin, I am certain that it is this capacity to identify with and value other human beings that truly makes us one of kind."