Occidental College announced April 7 that Eric Garcetti, mayor of Los Angeles and former Occidental professor, will be the commencement speaker for the Class of 2019 May 19 in the Remsen Bird Hillside Theater (Greek Bowl) at 9:00 am.
According to President Jonathan Veitch, the board of trustees’ Honorary Degree Committee leads the process of nominating and selecting commencement speakers and other honorary degree recipients.
Garcetti is currently serving his second term as the 42nd mayor of Los Angeles, according to Garcetti’s website. He was born in Arizona and raised in the San Fernando Valley. He received his Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Master of Arts (MA) from Columbia University. Prior to being mayor, he served on the Los Angeles City Council from 2006 to 2012. He is Los Angeles’ first Jewish mayor and is the son of a Mexican immigrant.
Before he was elected mayor in 2013, Garcetti taught in Occidental’s Diplomacy & World Affairs (DWA) department as an assistant professor from 1999 to 2000. Veitch said Garcetti continues to be involved in the Occidental community.
“Mayor Garcetti has a number of close ties to Oxy–he was a DWA faculty member from 1999-2000, has recruited a number of Oxy alumni to work at City Hall, and his office is working with current Oxy students to examine how the city can incorporate Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into its planning,” Veitch said via email.
Peter Dreier, E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics and professor of Urban & Environmental Policy, taught Politics 101 with Garcetti during his time here. Dreier said he has seen Garcetti’s affinity for Occidental.
“Even after he was no longer teaching here at Oxy, he’s still coming back,” Dreier said. “He gave talks on campus a couple of times.”
In 2018, Garcetti gave a keynote address titled “Global Ambition, Local Action,” announcing a policy initiative partnering with Occidental. He began his speech by thanking Occidental and speaking about his fond memories of his time here. The speech is mirrored in the current 2018–2019 Cultural Studies Program (CSP) Lecture Series theme, “Global Cities/Local Realities.”
“Thanks so much to Occidental College for welcoming me back to a place that I always consider a home. It‘s really extraordinary to be back on this campus where I spent some of my most important and formative years,” Garcetti said in the speech. “And it’s good to be among so many old friends.”
According to the Occidental website, Garcetti has brought multiple Occidental alumni and faculty to work at city hall. This includes his deputy mayor for economic opportunity, Brenda Shockley ’68, his previous deputy mayor for budget and innovation, Rick Cole ’78 and his first chief design officer, Christopher Hawthorne, UEP professor.
Dreier said Garcetti has the unique combination of being inspiring and talented in understanding and forming policy.
“Being the mayor of such a big city is a very daunting and complex task, and there are a lot of people who are very good at policy but can’t manage the bureaucracy,” Dreier said. “They don’t know how to do the politics part, how to inspire people and get people interested in how the city works.”
Garcetti has been instrumental in promoting membership in the Paris Climate Agreement. According to the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA, he has put forth effort and focus specifically in the realm of environmental preservation.
According to Veitch, in addition to his work on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Garcetti led the campaign to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, passed an ambitious public transportation plan, guided a major regional initiative to house the homeless and led the first National Day of Action on Immigration.
Veitch spoke highly of the class of 2019 as they prepare to leave the Occidental campus.
“The Class of 2019 has excelled in so many ways–in the classroom, in research here and abroad, activists, artists, musicians and athletes, and as advocates for themselves and others,” Veitch said via email. “They have been major contributors to the Oxy community and I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing about the impact they have in the world after Commencement.”
Veitch said the speaker is there to highlight students and their achievements.
“Regardless of who the speaker may be, it’s important to remember that the primary focus of Commencement is celebrating our students,” Veitch said via email.