President Melvin L. Oliver, Opening Remarks

Pitzer College President Melvin L. Oliver welcomes friends and families and gives the opening remarks at Pitzer’s 55th annual Commencement held on May 18, 2019.


Welcome, family, friends and loved ones to Pitzer College’s 55th commencement. This is a day of joy and celebration. My heartfelt congratulations to you, our graduating Class of 2019. The Class of 2019 hails from 31 states and 13 countries. You range in age from 20 to 50. This year, 45 of you double-majored and 17 designed your own major. Your top majors are environmental analysis, organizational studies, psychology, economics, media studies and English and world literature. You have stretched and sacrificed to reach this milestone. We call this day “commencement” because we are celebrating not just your accomplishments here at Pitzer, but the start of the next chapter of your lives. To our new resources, first gen and international students, some of you have come to us from around the world. Many of you joined from across the country. All of you brought your unique diversity of knowledge, lived experiences, challenges and enthusiasm that broaden our perspectives, our classrooms and our community. Parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers and all our extended families and friends, today is your day, too. You are our graduates first teachers and the first to instill the love of learning. And it was your hard, your hard work, your sacrifice and your unwavering support and encouragement that has brought us all here this morning.

Here with us on this happy occasion, are members of our board of trustees and our Board Chair Harold Brown; trustees will you please stand? I would also like to recognize my executive leadership team: Mark Bailey, Communications Yvonne Berumen, Admission and Financial Aid, Nigel Boyle, our Academic Affairs, Jaime Jorgeson, chief of staff, Neil Macready, Advancement, and Jim Marchant, Strategic Initiatives and Community Relations, Mike Segawa, Student Affairs and Laura Trondle, Finance and Administration.

Next, join me in acknowledging our distinguished Pitzer College faculty; will you please stand. I would like to express my appreciation to Pitzer college staff members for their dedicated efforts today, in particular I would like to acknowledge commencement coordinator Katie Tewell, our commencement committee, Mark Crawbuck and his groundskeepers and staff from facilities and maintenance, custodial and housekeeping, food services, and finally every office on campus that worked together to create this beautiful celebration.

The graduating class elected Professors Menna Bizuneh and Barbara Junisbai as the student marshals. Our faculty marshals are Professors Melinda Harold-Menzies and Claudia Strauss. Students also elected a member of the Pitzer staff as their special guest to thank them for their generosity of spirit. This year, the students chose Dan Hirsch, Dean of Campus Life. Dan isn’t here today because he’s attending his own graduation ceremony for earning his PhD in education from Colorado State University.

Graduates, you chose Pitzer because you were drawn to the college’s core values of social responsibility, environmental, sustainability, intercultural understanding, interdisciplinary learning and student engagement. During the past four years you have interpreted, applied and lived these values. You lobbied and successfully helped your home state become the first in the United States to ban sunscreens that are harmful to coral reefs. As Robert Redford conservancy fellows, IGLAS fellows, admission fellows, diversity program interns, Advancement ambassadors and student senators, you’ve embodied Pitzer’s spirit and contributed to the success of our college. Your work in raising thousands of dollars to support humanitarian and legal efforts at the US-Mexico border was recognized by a member of the US House of Representatives. And you did all this while mastering challenging material at Pitzer, the Keck science department and the other Claremont Colleges, and becoming authorities in your chosen fields.

To our student-athletes, you have balanced midterms with six a.m. practices while winning all-American, all-academic and all-SCIAC honors on the court, in the pool and on the field. You were named SCIAC’s newcomers of the year, and athletes of the year, and you helped the Sagehens claim their first conference all-sports trophy in program history. And you brought home the national small College rugby organization 15s national rugby championship. Over the past four years, you played on Pomona-Pitzer athletics teams; they’ve won 18 regular season SCIAC championships, nine SCIAC tournament championships as well.

Graduates, you’ve earned dozens of fellowships, scholarships and awards for your academic achievements. We count among you and Envirolab Asia fellows, neuroscience fellows, NYU Shake Shanghai writing and speaking fellowships, and a critical language fellow, national peer tutor writing grant winners, you’ve won both a Freeman Asia Award and a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship; you were awarded a Mellon-Mays and Napier, a Davis Project for Peace and an alumnus thematic international exchange seminar grant. You will be performing full-time biomedical research at the National Institute of Health through its intramural research training program, and so far, six of you have won Fulbright fellowships that will take you from Asia to South America. Class of 2019, your postgraduate plans reflect your unique passions and purpose. You will enter an array of professions from consulting and finance to education and environmental sustainability, from health and tech to politics and the arts. You will work for governmental, nonprofit and private sector organizations. You will start graduate programs in law, sciences and humanities.

We know that wherever you go, whatever you do, you will carry Pitzer’s core values with you to make a difference in the world. Thank you.

About Pitzer College

Pitzer College is a nationally top-ranked undergraduate liberal arts and sciences institution. A member of The Claremont Colleges, Pitzer offers a distinctive approach to a liberal arts education by linking intellectual inquiry with interdisciplinary studies, cultural immersion, social responsibility, and community involvement. For more information, please visit