Oscar-winning alum tells SF State grads to 'make great things'

Jonas Rivera addresses graduates at the 115th Commencement.

Jonas Rivera addresses graduates at the 115th Commencement.

Former Secretary of State George P. Shultz, others honored at 115th Commencement

Pixar film producer Jonas Rivera, who picked up his first Academy Award this year for the hit "Inside Out," told San Francisco State University's class of 2016 to prioritize what they love at the University's 115th Commencement today. An SF State alumnus himself, Rivera addressed more than 35,000 graduates and guests attending the Commencement ceremony in San Francisco's AT&T Park.

"Your passions, the things you feel strongly about, are the most important tools you have to guide your life decisions," said Rivera. "You have to find out what you love, what's important to you, and then figure out how to honor that in your life and in your work."

Rivera was a film production major at SF State when he saw the early Pixar short "Luxo Jr." in a class and was inspired to give the fledgling company a call. He talked his way into a production office internship on Pixar's first feature film, "Toy Story," then parlayed that into a permanent job. He worked on Pixar films such as "Toy Story 2," "A Bug's Life" and "Monsters, Inc." in a variety of roles, eventually rising to the position of producer on 2009's "Up."

"I know that you are all going to make a big difference in the world around you, to the people and causes you love, and I have to tell you that I am honored to be here with you at the beginning of it all," the Castro Valley native said. "Stay positive, stay focused, keep your to-do list in good shape and make great things."

Rivera was able to complete some personal business thanks to his Commencement speech, as well. When he graduated, he was too busy working on "Toy Story" to attend SF State's Commencement ceremony. Cut to 20 years later, and Rivera was able to give his mom and dad — who were attending the 2016 Commencement to watch their son speak — a special apology from the stage.

"I missed that day, and my parents, who are here tonight, have never really forgiven me for that, and I can't say I blame them," Rivera said. "I am hoping that this starts to make up for that. It's pretty cool."

AT&T Park hosted SF State's Commencement for the second time, and in addition to the more than 7,200 undergraduate and graduate degrees conferred during this year's ceremony, four other honors were bestowed. In recognition of his achievements as a diplomat and economist, former Secretary of State George P. Shultz was awarded the President's Medal, the highest honor conferred by SF State President Les Wong. In addition, the California State University (CSU) presented honorary degrees to three individuals: Charlotte Mailliard Shultz, chief of protocol for the city of San Francisco; Bob Linscheid, former president of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and former chair of the CSU Board of Trustees; and Jeffrey Mallett, entrepreneur and one of the founding leaders behind internet giant Yahoo.

The class of 2016 was represented by two student speakers, one undergraduate and one graduate. The undergraduate speaker, Richard Polote, Jr. is a decorated U.S. Air Force veteran and the recipient of a bachelor's degree in Africana studies. Like more than one-third of SF State students, he is the first member of his family to attend college.

"We must dedicate ourselves to fighting systematic oppression, social inequalities, social injustices just as those who came before us did. We must use critical thinking, conscious actions, strategic planning, community organizing. And we must ask ourselves on an individual basis, 'How did I contribute to humanity and did my actions make the world a better place?'" said Polote, who hopes to teach middle- and high-school students about African and African-American history.

Chosen to speak on behalf of graduate students was Claudia Corona, who completed her M.S. in geosciences this year. Corona's thesis research focused on the effects of climate variables such as El Niño on groundwater and water resource management. She encouraged her fellow graduates to explore their curious sides and follow their interests wherever they might lead.

"My curiosity fuels my adventures and my ambitions to make the world a better place for my family and my friends and for society to grow with nature," said Corona. "So what about you? What are you curious about?"

SF State President Les Wong praised the class of 2016 as one of the largest and most diverse in the University's history, adding that both Polote and Corona exemplify the values that SF State strives to nurture. 

"Your remarks serve as a reminder that the work of social justice and learning is never complete and that attending San Francisco State is more than an education," Wong said. "It's an experience — and true preparation for living a life of principle and value."