Lloyd H. Dean offered words of encouragement and hope to the UC Merced graduating class of 2011.
He urged them not to be afraid to step out into the world, despite the global challenges.
"You are graduating into a world of one of the most uncertain times in recent history, but I can tell you, UC Merced has prepared you for challenges ahead," he said.
Dean, president and chief executive officer of Catholic Healthcare West, which includes Merced's Mercy Medical Center, delivered the commencement address Saturday night. More than 500 students took part in the university's sixth graduation ceremony.
The graduating students represented 35 counties in California. In addition, there were students from five states and one foreign country, India.
Dean told students he was delighted to be the keynote speaker for two reasons: because he began his career as an educator and because he knows the two previous UC Merced keynote speakers -- first ladyady Michelle Obama, who gave the address in 2009, and Lester Holt of NBC's "Nightly News" and "The Today Show." Holt spoke last year.
Dean said he's known President Barack Obama for about 20 years. He said he was part of a small group that was host to the president for two days in San Francisco about three weeks ago. Dean said he told Obama that he was going to be this year's keynote speaker at UC Merced.
He said Obama told him he heard that the first lady had done an excellent job in 2009 when she delivered the keynote speech and set the bar high, and he didn't want Lloyd to lower the bar. "So I'm going to do my best to not lower the bar," he told the students.
The first in his family and in his community to graduate from a university, Dean is the leader of the eighth-largest hospital system in the country. It employs more than 50,000. "I care about education," he said. "It's made such a difference in my life."
His struggles growing up mirrored those of many of the graduates at UC Merced, especially those who were the first in their families to graduate from college. "I understand your concern; I had that myself," he said.
Dean said he grew up poor and watched his parents struggle. He said they were determined their children would have a better life. The encouragement from his parents helped Dean work harder. He later saw education as a way to help his parents and his community. "I wouldn't give up and I didn't give up," he said.
Dean challenged students to be the best they can be. "Don't be afraid," he told the students. "This might be a time of challenge, but it's also a time for great opportunity."
He said that when he began his career with Catholic Healthcare West, the company was undergoing challenges, but it's now one of the most recognized hospital systems in the nation.
One of the reasons Dean changed careers and went into health care was to help people. He encouraged students to help others and to give back to the community. "Giving back for the gifts this great university has given you," he said.
UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang, who came to the campus in 2007, told students they always will be a part of the legacy of UC Merced.
He made two requests of students: To do what they truly love and to think and act like global citizens.
He said it will take collaboration across cultural and geographical boundaries to find solutions for the difficulties the nation faces.
Dulcemaria Anaya, UC Merced's student speaker, also challenged students to make a difference in their community. "I encourage you to think about what kind of impact you will make in this world and how you will give back to our community," she told her classmates. "Now it is our turn to reach out to younger generations that look up to us in hopes of one day being in our shoes."
Anaya is the first in her family to graduate from a university.
In the early 1990s, she and her parents joined a parade in downtown Merced to try to promote the UC Merced campus. She said a man looked at her and said, "Look, there's one of our future UC Merced students." Ever since, it was her parents' dream for her to attend and graduate from UC Merced.
"Fortunately, by the time I graduated from high school the university was built, and I was accepted," she said.
Her parents' dream became a reality when Anaya walked across the stage Saturday to receive her degree in world history.
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 388-6507 or firstname.lastname@example.org.