International stages to the Quarry, alumna Terisa Siagatonu returns for dedication ceremony

UCSC alumna and award-winning poet, Terisa Siagatonu (John R. Lewis ’11, community studies), will be a keynote speaker at the John R. Lewis College dedication ceremony on May 6. 

Terisa Siagatonu—award-winning poet, teaching artist, mental health educator, and community leader—graduated from UC Santa Cruz as a first-generation college student with a B.A. in community studies with a minor in education in 2011. She was introduced to spoken word poetry for the first time in her UCSC dorm in 2006 and has since made a remarkable impact on the poetry community in the Bay Area, around the country, and overseas as a queer Samoan woman and activist.

UCSC is honored to welcome Siagatonu back to the university as a speaker at the John R. Lewis College dedication ceremony—the renaming of the college Siagatonu was once affiliated with. 

“All of us at College Ten are honored and happy to welcome back Terisa Siagatonu for our naming celebration as John R. Lewis College,” College Nine and John R. Lewis College Provost Flora Lu said. “Her connections with College Ten run deep, from her days as a student and neophyte spoken word artist, to now achieving national acclaim for her craft, community organizing, and social justice work.” 

Siagatonu has performed at the White House under the Obama administration and was awarded President Obama’s Champion of Change Award in 2012 for activism in her Pacific Islander community. She has also performed at the UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris, France. 

Her work has been published in Poetry Magazine and featured on Button Poetry, CNN, NBCNews, NPR, Huffington Post, KQED, Everyday Feminism, The Guardian, BuzzFeed, and Upworthy. 

When she’s not performing, Siagatonu facilitates workshops, leads artistic and professional development training, provides mental health clinical support, and delivers keynote speeches across the country. In addition, she has over a decade worth of experience in community work, including youth advocacy, educational attainment, Pacific Islander/Indigenous rights, climate change, LGBTQQIA rights, gender-based violence, and more.

On top of that, Siagatonu has stayed connected to UC Santa Cruz on a number of occasions. 

“Terisa gives so generously of her time and talent, from speaking at the Practical Activism Conference and College Ten commencement, to hosting workshops on mental health with the UCSC Resource Centers, to working towards educational equity on campus with Engaging Education,” Lu added. “I never cease to be moved and inspired by the power of Terisa’s prose and presence.”

Siagatonu will be joined by powerful speakers Latosha Brown—co-founder of Black Voters Matter and the Black Voters Matter Capacity Building Institute—and Wisdom Cole, the National Director of the National Association of Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) Youth & College Division. The dedication ceremony will take place on May 6 in the Quarry Amphitheater and is open to the public.