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Pitzer College’s 54th Annual Commencement took place on May 12, 2018 at the Stephen L. Glass Commencement Plaza
This year’s commencement speaker is Dolores Huerta. Dolores is president and founder of the Dolores Huerta Foundation. She is a labor leader and community organizer who has worked in civil rights and social justice for over 50 years. In 1962 she and Cesar Chavez cofounded the United Farm Workers’ Union. She served as vice president and played a critical role in many of the union’s accomplishments for four decades. In 2002 she received the Puffin Nation Prize for creative citizenship where she used to establish the Dolores Huerta Foundation. The foundation is connecting groundbreaking community based organizing to state and national movements to register and educate voters, to advocate for education reform, to bring about infrastructure improvements to low income communities, to advocate for greater equality for the LGBTQ community, and to create strong leadership development.
She has received numerous other honors. Among them the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Right from President Clinton, and the 2012 award from President Obama bestowed which was the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. It is my distinct honor and Pitzer’s honor to welcome the 2018 commencement speaker, Dolores Huerta.
Thank you very much. I am very honored to be able to be with you on this glorious day of your graduation and I want to thank so many people that are in the audience, the parents. Of course all of you students worked so hard for this day. And of course all of the teachers that are here behind us. Let’s give them all a big old vivo, okay?
And because you will come to this incredible, incredible institution here a lot of what I have to say is just to affirm what you’ve already learned and maybe giving you some messages so you can take them forward in your paths as you go forward in your careers and also maybe to share them with your parents and families as you go forward. I know many of you are thinking about what occupations are going to be going into. I hope some of you will think about going into higher education and you know, continue your studies. I say that because we are so needful of people like yourselves in higher education.
As we look at our world around us today and we wonder how did we get here to this place in the United States of America, a land of freedom and equality. Not quite so as we know. Well, I do believe that one of the problems is our educational system. And yes, we do have a great structure in the United States for education. But I think that we have to change the content of our educational system. I do believe that one of the reasons that we are where we are at today is because we have still have unfortunately a land of abysmal ignorance in our society. Abysmal ignorance. And one of the reasons is because in our educational system starting with Kindergarten we were never taught the true history of the United States of America. The Howard Simm history of the United States of America. We were never taught who our first slaves were in the United States, the Native Americans, whose land we sit on, who we have never thanked or compensated for. That the African slaves that were brought here in chains to the United States of America, they are the ones that built the White House and the congress of the United States of America. And so many of those buildings that even Thomas Jefferson’s Montebello, you know, the governor’s mansion in Virginia. Thomas Jefferson didn’t have to do a lot of work because the slaves did it all so he could just study and write.
Then of course all of the immigrants, all of the immigrants that came to the United States. People from Mexico. Mexicans are great, by the way. Give them a big old hand. The Mexican immigrants, the Asians, the Japanese, the Chinese, the Filipinos, the people from India, all of these people who came here that really made our country great. And the contributions of the labor unions. How did we get the eight hour day? How did we get the weekend? How did we get social security, unemployment insurance, disability insurance, safety standards, public education? It was from labor unions. This is not taught.
And unless we change the content of our educational system starting as I said before with kindergarten and pre-kindergarten we will not end the racism in our country and we will always have the poison of white privilege and white supremacy. So we know that this is something that we all have to work. And we also have to end the bigotry. Let’s not look down on people who work with their hands. Let’s remember every time we sit down to eat that a farmer is somewhere out there in the very hot sun of the summer or in the very cold of the winter, doing the planting and the pruning that they are the ones that put the food on our table. Let’s remember them.
And all of those millions of people that never had the great opportunity of going to a college, a place like Pitzer, because they never had the opportunities. They are also very educated. They just never had the opportunity to go to college and let’s not look down on them because unfortunately they did not, they were not as fortunate as we were. We have to eliminate that also. And we know that the one way that we all have to work to make all of this happen is to make sure that we as we go out there in the world that we do whatever we can. That we have this great opportunity, we have our diplomas, we have our education, but our task in this world is to make it a better place. Let’s not think, I’m just going to go out there and make as much money as I can, because you can’t take it with you. You never see a hearse with a U-Haul on the back of it. And I don’t care how much money you make, how many millions you have, you can only eat three meals a day, you can only wear one suit of clothes a day. So our task in this world is we know that when we leave this world we have to make it a better place. We have to leave it in a better place than what we arrived. And we have to fight very hard to see where our tax dollars are going.
Are our tax dollars, the money that we spend is that going to go for more prisons and more jails? In the United States of America we have more people in prison than any other country in the world. This is shameful. We know it takes more money to keep somebody in jail or as Jessie Jackson says, “Than to send them to Yale.” So we have to end this whole notion that we have criminalization of our youth. My foundation, the Dolores Huerta Foundation, this is one of the main projects that we have is to stop the school to prison pipeline. Don’t believe what they say that Latino kids are dropping out of school because somehow they have trouble with the English language. What about African American students, they speak perfect English, but they are being pushed out. They are not dropping out. They are being pushed out of school.
In our foundation we have had to sue our local high school district in Biggsville, California because African American students were being pushed out at 500% times higher than white kids, Latino kids 400% time higher. Today in a town called California City up in the Mohave Desert we are having a parent conference today because in California City African American students are being pushed out at the rate of 81%. 81%. This is shameful and it is criminal. This should not be happening in our United States of America. So we have to look at all of our institutions, public and private and we have to say what are you going to do to end the racism in our society, the inequity and the imbalance in our society. And I think every educational institution, especially has to be tasked and say, how do we increase the number of African American students at our colleges? How do we increase the number of Latino students in our colleges?
And as the Black Panthers used to say if you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem. So when we think of how do we make our country, the United States of America because we are the richest country in the world the most influential country in the world? So when we think about what our influences are we have to realize that we impact everybody.
I often when I speak I like to mention the word bananas. Why are bananas important? Because we eat millions of bananas every day in the United States of America. Do the people in Guatemala or Honduras or El Salvador, do they get the money that we spend on bananas? No. They don’t. Who gets the money? Chiquita Banana, Dole, Del Monte, American Banana companies. So we have to think about how can we influence foreign policy so that we know our corporations are really acting responsibly and so when they operate in other countries that they actually help those countries develop the resources and not take away the resources and bring them to United States of America.
So, I’m talking about a lot of policies that need to be changed in our United States. But I think that we can actually do this because actually we, the citizens are the ones that elect the people that make the policies. And I want to quote Coretta Scott King. Coretta Scott King said this, “We will never have peace in the world until women take power.” But I am going to change that definition. I’m going to amend it. And I’m going to say we will never have peace in the world until feminists take power. So, who qualifies as a feminists?
Someone who cares about women’s reproductive rights, someone who cares about LGBTQ rights. Someone who cares about the environment. And yes, someone who cares about immigrants’ rights. And reminding everyone unless you’re Native American your people came from somewhere. And to our Latino students when they say to us, “Go back where you came from,” hey we have to answer, “We are where we came from because we are the indigenous people of the continent.”
So, you know, we’re celebrating 50 years. It’s interesting 2018, 50 years when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, when Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. So I’ve often heard many students say, “Gee, I wish I would have been there in the ‘60s.” You know what, we’re back. We’re back. These are the 2000’s and we’re going to go to 2019. And I do hope that all of us working together that we know that this time as we know in the ‘60s we had a cultural revolution. Maybe this time we will have an economic revolution. Because we cannot sustain the economic realities that 1% of the United States of America 1% of the wealthy families own 50% of the wealth. That 10% of our corporations and wealth families own 90% of the wealth in the United States of America. Somehow we have to go back to indigenous values of sharing, of cooperation, of supporting each other and not of domination and corporate greed. This we have to change.
We have to think ow can we protect our tax dollars, the tax dollars that we spend to make sure that the resources of our country are shared equally among others. So people should not have to be homeless. People should not have to work two jobs to be able to pay rent. This has to change. And the thing is we have to remember that we have to change it. We have the power to change it. And then I want to talk about some basic truths. Coming back to the idea, how do we end the racism that is so destructive that ends up with people losing their lives, the people lignin poverty, that people do not get the kind of quality education that they deserve.
The basic truths are this: Number one, remember this, 75% of the world are people of color. 75%. And, we are only one human race. One human race. Now we’re talking some science here. This is science. We are one human race. We have a lot of different nationalities, a lot of different ethnic groups, a lot of different cultures. But one human race. Our human race, the name as you all know because you all studied it, is homo sapien.
So if we’re all one human race and we know that our human race began in Africa, yes our human race began in Africa, and we know as our human race traveled across the planet human race went to Asia, came down the Baron Strait to the Americas. People lost their color, they got a little lighter skin. One of our human tribes ended up in Europe where it’s kind of cold and they lost their color. Now they have to go to the tanning salon or the beach to get their color back. So we can say to David Duke and the KKK to the white citizen’s council, to the outright, to the neo Nazis, get over it. You’re Africans.
So, as we remember all of the great people that went before us, remember mahatma Gandhi who by the way celebrates 150 years of his birth this year, about trying to bring peace to the world, bringing truth to the world, and the last words that Robert Kennedy said before he was assassinated, if you can’t look at the documentary Dolores, it’s in there. You can now get it from our foundation, the Dolores Huerta Org or from PBS, Robert Kennedy said this, just before he was killed, we have an obligation and responsibilities to our fellow citizens. We have an obligation and responsibilities to our fellow citizens. And we can add to that and to our world, and to our planet. So that means that each and every one we have a huge responsibility that we have to take our civic responsibilities very seriously. What does that mean? That means number one we have to vote. We have to campaign for progressive people so that they can get elected because all of these things that we need to fix they’re not going to happen by themselves. They’re not going to happen by themselves. We’ve got to somehow campaign, go out there, knock on the doors, talk to our neighbors, talk to our relatives, talk to our friends, and please implore them you have to vote. We cannot have a democracy if people do not vote because as ____ Ortega said, the Spanish philosopher, “If we do not have an educated citizenry, if people do not participate, the greedy and the powerful will govern.” So we have to have an educated and an active citizenry. So I implore you please, 2018 let’s remember Robert Kennedy, let’s remember Dr. Martin Luther King, let’s remember Mahatma Gandhi. Let’s remember Cesar Chavez who only had an eighth grade education. Yet, he was very devoted to activism and to the poor, to nonviolence. We can do this. We have it in our hearts and we have it in our power.
What people would ask us, “How can your organize the farm workers? They don’t speak English. They’re not citizens. They’re poor.” What we would say to the workers is the power is in your person. The power is in your person. You have the power to make it happen. We have the power to get universal healthcare. We have the power to get free college tuition for everybody. We have the power to end racism and bigotry and sexism and homophobia. We can do it. But we have to participate and we have to vote.
This is what I leave you with. You have had this great opportunity. You now have to become the missionaries. You do have the power to go out there and improve this world. So I’m going to ask you the question very, very specifically. And I know you know the answer. But I want you to shout the answer so loud so that all of those haters can hear us. The question I’m going to ask you is very simply who has the power. Wait for me. I’m going to ask you who has the power, please, families and friends, parents, siblings, everybody join us when you do the answer to the question. The question is who has the power, I want you say we’ve got the power. I’m going to say, what kind of power, I want you to say people power. Can we do that? Let’s do it really, really loud so the haters can hear us. Let’s go. Who’s got the power?
Audience: We’ve got the power.
Dolores Huerta: What kind of power?
Audience: People power.
Dolores Huerta: So are we going to go out there and organize and engage and campaign and vote? What do we say, si se puede or no se puede?
Audience: si se puede, si se puede, si se puede, [Continues]
Dolores Huerta: Okay. Let’s all do it with an organized hand clap. Everybody let’s go out together. Let’s go. [Chanting] si se puede, thank you very much. Thank you.