Challenge issued to Class of 2012: “The world needs your risk-taking”

At San Francisco State University’s 111th Commencement today, keynote speaker Edwin M. Lee, mayor of San Francisco, advised students to be bold and take risks to address the challenges of their generation.

1.	A photo of San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee speaking

San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee addresses the Class of 2012.

“Now that you’re graduating, Class of 2012, the challenges and the problems of the world are your challenges and problems too,” said Lee, who became San Francisco’s first Asian American mayor in 2011 and has served the city for 20 years. “And so your next assignment, the homework for the rest of your life -- I get to do this because I'm Mayor -- is to run the ball a little further down the field and help make the world and your community a better place.”

Lee, who called SF State the vanguard of the civil rights movements of his generation, said that graduates’ contributions to the world are needed now more than ever.

“In the Chinese zodiac, 2012 is the Year of the Dragon. The Year of the Dragon is fittingly the time for risk taking, bold decisions and innovation,” Lee said. “Class of 2012 of San Francisco, the world needs your risk-taking.”

SF State awarded diplomas to 7,928 graduates from 109 countries, including 105 veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. A crowd of more than 20,000 guests filled Cox Stadium on a sunny Saturday as a number of students and faculty were acknowledged for their distinct contributions to the University.

The ceremony marked the 24th and final Commencement for President Robert A. Corrigan, who is retiring at the end of July after a 24-year tenure in which the University has been transformed into a diverse, vibrant and highly-respected urban research campus.

A photo of 2012 Alumnus of the Year Jose Antonio Vargas speaking

2012 Alumnus of the Year Jose Antonio Vargas takes a photo of the more than 20,000 guests at Cox Stadium before addressing the Class of 2012.

“We believe, and have always believed, that it is our responsibility to educate hearts as well as minds,” said Corrigan. “We are proud to be a university of activism, of personal responsibility, of concern about major issues and about determination of how to engage those issues.”

Corporate Finance major Aznaur Midov represented the Class of 2012 as its student speaker. Midov, a hood recipient from the College of Business, came to SF State from the Russian republic of Kabardino-Balkaria and quickly overcame the language barrier to establish himself as a leader on campus. He co-founded Financial Analysis and Management Education (FAME), a student-run investment group, and helped secure internships for his fellow students.

Midov praised the mentorship and support he received from his professors and the enthusiasm of his fellow students. “As students, we have experienced the many great strengths of this university,” he said. “Chief among them is its commitment to diversity. This is a place where unique backgrounds and personal differences are celebrated rather than ostracized.”

Also honored was 2012 Alumnus of the Year Jose Antonio Vargas, a renowned journalist and activist who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2008 as part of The Washington Post team that covered the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings. In a 2011 essay in The New York Times Magazine, Vargas revealed his status as an undocumented immigrant and has since founded a multimedia campaign called Define American to advocate for immigration reform.

“I don’t have the right papers to prove that I’m American, so I have to believe in my heart that I am American,” he said. “I thank the kind and generous people at San Francisco State for welcoming me.”

President Corrigan awarded the President’s Medal to Jacob E. Perea and J.E. (Penny) Saffold. Perea is a distinguished teacher, administrator and activist who has served SF State for 35 years and co-founded Step to College to help underrepresented high school students access higher education. Saffold has worked more than 31 years in leadership positions in Student Affairs, helping students develop leadership, conscience and character. Barbro Osher, a renowned philanthropist who has generously supported educational and arts causes, was awarded an honorary degree from the California State University and SF State.

SF State is the only master's-level public university serving the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin. The University enrolls more than 30,000 students each year and graduates about 8,000 annually. With nationally acclaimed programs in a range of fields -- from creative writing, cinema and biology to history, broadcast and electronic communication arts, theatre arts and ethnic studies -- the University’s more than 212,000 graduates have contributed to the economic, cultural and civic fabric of San Francisco and beyond.

View the 2012 Commencement transcript.

-- Philip Riley