Gavin Newsom tells SF State grads to ‘step up and step in’

Alum Annette Bening among others honored at University's 114th Commencement ceremony


SAN FRANCISCO, May 22, 2015 -- California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom urged the class of 2015 to "step up and step in" during his keynote address at San Francisco State University's 114th Commencement today.

A photo of SF State graduatesNewsom cited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela as examples of individuals who took action to improve the world despite the odds against them.

"Take account. Life can either happen to you or for you," Newsom told the more than 35,000 graduates and guests attending the Commencement ceremony in San Francisco's AT&T Park. "You've got to step up. You've got to step in. Don't be a bystander."

Newsom also used his keynote speech to stress the importance of embracing diversity.

"What makes San Francisco State not just good but great -- what makes this city not just good but great -- [is that] at our best we don't just tolerate our diversity," Newsom said. "We celebrate our diversity."

In addition to the thousands of undergraduate and graduate degrees conferred during the ceremony, the California State University honored three individuals with honorary degrees. Four-time Academy Award-nominated actress and SF State alumna Annette Bening was awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree. Lawrence Ferlinghetti -- writer, editor, painter, free speech champion and co-founder of City Lights Bookstore -- was also awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree. Lawyer, scholar, activist and former New College of California President Peter Gabel was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

The Class of 2015 was represented by two student speakers, one undergraduate and one graduate student. The undergraduate speaker, Eduardo Gonzalez, is a first-generation Mexican-American and the recipient of a bachelor's degree in international relations and political science. Like more than a third of SF State freshmen, he is the first member of his family to attend college.

"No matter what your background or the obstacles you have had to overcome, you are here right now and have earned your seat at AT&T Park," Gonzalez told his fellow graduates.

Chosen to speak on behalf of graduate students was Jonathan Brumfield, who received a B.A. from SF State in 2000 and completed his M.A. in ethnic studies this year. An expert on the history of hip hop and aerosol art, he has taught courses on these subjects around the world. He currently leads the arts program at Safe Passages, an Oakland nonprofit that aims to inspire young people and end the cycle of poverty.

"In my years as an undergraduate, the professors would tell us the only way to see if your education is real is to put it to use in your community," Brumfield said. "That message was ingrained in every discipline here on campus. From my business and engineering major friends to the art and social science students I hung out with, they all went back to their respective communities and put their education to use for the people."

SF State President Les Wong called Brumfield's remarks "a reminder that the work of social justice is never complete and that a key hallmark of an SF State education is how it is put to use for the betterment of others."

Wong brought the ceremony to a close by praising students for their vision and values while challenging them to keep acting on those ideals as they move into the next phase of their lives.

"At Commencement, we not only recognize all that you, our graduates, have achieved as students," Wong said. "We look ahead to what you can accomplish as educated and concerned citizens."