NBC Nightly News and TODAY Show weekend anchor Lester Holt had a proposition for UC Merced's class of 2010, and that's to challenge those around them and raise the level of public discourse.
As a soft breeze cooled the early evening air, 321 UC Merced graduates and hundreds of their family members and friends listened Saturday as Holt gave the commencement address for the school’s second graduating class.
“Force us to open our minds and work through our issues,” Holt said. “Teach us to be free thinkers. And even hold those of us in the news media accountable. I know you can make us better.”
Holt talked about the changing media landscape and his responsibility as a journalist and the graduates’ responsibility as citizens. This was Holt’s second visit to UC Merced. He came last spring to interview students for the TODAY show about their successful campaign to get Michelle Obama to speak at graduation. At that time, Holt said in his speech, he asked a student how he planned to top Michelle Obama’s visit the following year. The student then asked if Holt was available, to which Holt replied, yes. “Four months later I got the letter from Chancellor Kang, and having said ‘sure’ in front of 5 million TODAY show viewers, here I am no matter how I got the gig,” Holt said. Holt, a Rancho Cordova native, is no stranger to the Central Valley, and in his speech he championed the area as an essential component of the California experience. “California's dwindling resources and shrinking budgets have been well reported, however this young but rapidly maturing campus symbolizes a commitment to grow California's educational opportunities and possibilities,” he said. “You are all a part of that, and I offer my congratulations.” Ninety-five percent of this year’s graduates were undergraduates. Overall, 18 majors were represented with the most popular ones being, biological sciences, psychology and management. There were a total of 12 students earning doctorate degrees and six students receiving their Masters degrees. Last year, 293 students graduated. Since the campus opened in 2005, the school has grown from 875 students to 3,400. The buzzword of this year’s ceremony from the many of the speakers was “pioneering,” in terms of how they described the newest University of California school in the 10-campus system. Jill Tsai, a human biology major and UC Merced’s student speaker, talked about how her class has shaped the school for years to come. “At other universities, students walk through sand in the footprints of the students before them, merely riding on the coat tails of their predecessors,” she said. “At UC Merced, we have carved through wet concrete to create our own path, a path that will forever be engrained into the foundation of this campus. The college experience for future students will be based on what we have created.” UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang said he felt a kinship with the class of 2010, because they both started at the same time. Kang succeeded the school’s founding chancellor, Carol Tomlinson-Keasey. Keasey died late last year.
“You demonstrated a pioneering spirit by choosing to attend a new university and you will always be a part of the campus' history,” Kang said. “I am confident you will make lasting contributions to your local, national, and global communities. You have already started to do so through the legacies you established here at UC Merced.”