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UCLA Ed&IS Commencement: Celebrating with Hope, Commitment to Change

By Joanie Harmon
Doctoral candidates (L-R) Ashton Pemberton, Kiana Foxx, and Bernard Reyes celebrate their graduation from the Higher Education and Organizational Change program at the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies.

Wasserman Dean Christina Christie and student speakers honor the Class of 2023 with messages of congratulations and encouragement.

The UCLA School of Education & Information Studies celebrated Commencement on June 17 in Wilson Plaza, honoring the achievements of the 605-member Class of 2023, led by Wasserman Dean Christina Christie, members of the Ed&IS faculty, and student speakers who were chosen by their peers to represent the Departments of Education and Information Studies and the Education and Social Transformation major program.

Wasserman Dean and UCLA Professor of Education Christina Christie

Seventy-four PhDs were recognized from the Departments of Education and Information Studies. Two-hundred and twenty-nine master’s candidates represented UCLA’s Teacher Education Program, Principal Leadership Institute, and Transformative Coaching and Leadership; also graduating were representatives from the Student Affairs and Education programs. Eighty MLIS degrees were awarded to graduates in the Department of Information Studies, and 128 UCLA undergrads from a variety of disciplines across campus were honored for their work in the Education Studies Minor program. In addition, 94 undergraduates were awarded their bachelor of arts degrees in the School’s Education and Social Transformation major program. 

“Commencement is always the most special day and time of the year,” said Amy Gershon (’99, Ed.D., Educational Leadership Program), director of the UCLA Ed&IS Office of Student Services. “To see all of our students reach this milestone after so much hard work is really gratifying for the students, staff and faculty. This year, at the request of the Department of Education Chair Professor (Cecilia) Rios-Aguilar, we had a student mariachi band from Alexander Hamilton High School perform beforehand, which was really wonderful. They set the celebratory tone of the day, and we look forward to having them back next year.”

Dean Christie called the ceremonies to order, with welcoming remarks that highlighted not only the triumphs of commencement, but the dedication that propelled the graduates to this milestone. 

“Our graduate students in both education and information studies are powerful agents for change,” noted Christie. “Our master’s degree students—educators and librarians and archivists whose hard work helps ensure that our schools and libraries are just places – places that promote equity, inclusivity, and collaboration. And our doctoral candidates—your work ranges from ethnography to complex statistical analyses; from problems of practice to essential theoretical questions. Your work represents the very best of scholarship and it will move our fields forward in the most vital ways.

Sherrie Bradford, who graduated with her bachelor's degree from the Education and Social Transformation major program, addressed the audience and her classmates in spoken word and song, describing her journey as a former foster youth and college student.

“Today, all of you are completing one chapter in your professional life and looking ahead to a new one," Christie said. "Some of you will continue your studies; others will put your new degree to work in a public school, library, community college, community-based agency, or other organization. Whatever lies ahead, I am confident—and so grateful—that you will carry on this vibrant work toward social good and change – equity and justice.” 

Dean Christie underscored the many societal and political challenges that lie before the graduates, including widespread censorship and book bans, the emergence of artificial intelligence, and the diminishing presence of facts that can result from these conditions.

“We are living in a rapidly shifting world. We are facing a contentious political climate, a fast-changing technological environment, and the ever more increasing influence from social media,” she said. “All of this demands an unwavering commitment to fostering critical thinking, empathy, and open dialogue.

“Our collective work is in support of the foundations of a functioning democracy, including free speech, access to accurate information, and quality public education where students can thrive, free of undue distractions,” Christie continued. “As each of you leaves UCLA and works toward these goals, I urge you to help others focus on cutting through the noise—and to encourage our youth, your peers, and colleagues, and even our elders - to question, to challenge, and to seek the truth.

“As our newest educators, information specialists, and scholars, you must prioritize critical thinking, digital literacy, and healthy engagement with technology. You are armed with the understanding, compassion, responsiveness, and determination to make a difference. You can use these qualities to empower individuals with knowledge and reason, and ensure that free and open dialogue continue.”

Sherrie Bradford, who graduated with her bachelor of arts degree in Education and Social Transformation, delivered an innovative address, incorporating song and spoken word. She outlined the barriers that faced her as a foster youth, and honored the chosen family and community that propelled her toward her college education, including individuals at her schools and her church that provided basic and emotional supports.  

“This could never be a regular speech because my life is nothing like that,” said Bradford. “Milestone after milestone I want to shout out to every foster youth, y’all are so dope. We are all recoverers, conquerors, some of the greatest people I know. 

“I [gained] more from the work I’ve done to the things I’ve encountered to the people, I see the stories that go unheard … I’m here in front of you breaking the status quo.”

MLIS graduate Veronica Angelica Andrade Orozco congratulated her classmates and spoke of their perseverance as new students during the COVID-19 pandemic and the potential in today's job market for information professionals.

Veronica Angelica Andrade Orozco, a graduate of the Masters in Library and Information Science program, represented the UCLA Department of Information Studies. Along with thanking the Ed&IS staff, her department’s TAs and readers, and all levels of the faculty, her speech recognized the stereotypes of the information professions and congratulated her classmates on being prepared for the job market, which she said is, “…is bright, like this beautiful California day. We might just be surprised by who needs us.”

“We applied to this program amid the darkness and uncertainty of 2020 and many of us were unable to meet each other or our professors face-to-face until year 2022 in the program,” said Andrade Orozco. “That’s …  the only real regret from my time here because the students and faculty that comprise the information studies department are such cool people – really! 

“My cohort mates… are some truly impressive people,” she said. “They’re not only intelligent and hardworking, which are qualities shared by many UC graduates and UCLA alumni, … but they’re also kind, considerate, passionate about advocating for equitability and social justice in libraries, archives, and our educational system.”

Geneviève Achieng DeBose, who graduated with her master of arts degree from the Principal Leadership Institute program, also delivered her address with song, drawing from a previous speech she made when she achieved her teaching credential at Mills College. She spoke of her 20 year career as teacher, literacy coach, and federal education policy fellow, and noted that, “In those 20 years, some things have changed in education, but many have stayed the same.”

“This is a celebratory day,” said DeBose. “I want it to serve as a reminder that transforming an education system that was created to serve some and not all, isn’t easy. It’s not a linear or straightforward endeavor. But if we are sitting here today as a graduate, faculty or audience member… it is our duty, our responsibility to ensure that things do change for the better; that we create an educational system that cultivates the genius in every student, in every family, in every educator. It’s incredibly complex, but if we had to simplify it, I say we do three things. We have hope, we build community, and we take action.”

Geneviève Achieng DeBose, who achieved her Ph.D. in the Principal Leadership Institute program, recalled her early days as a teacher and gave a call to action to her fellow graduates and the community at large, for real change in the educational system.

DeBose cited a poem by Tupac Shakur, “The Rose That Grew From Concrete,” noting that, “That rose can represent so many of us, our students, our families, our communities. And like that rose, we have to maintain hope because this work is hard… because without hope, nothing will change.

“I look forward to continuing to change society and to creating a new world reality alongside each and every one of you, so that all of our roses - including ourselves - don’t have to grow from the cracks in the concrete but can instead thrive in spaces where we are loved, where we are supported, where we are seen. Let’s celebrate our accomplishments today, and then, let’s continue the work. Congratulations.”

Click here for a photo gallery of the 2023 Commencement.


Photos by Ivy Reynolds