James Brennan, a 1996 University of San Diego alumnus and successful San Diego businessman, concluded his remarks as the College of Arts and Sciences’ undergraduate commencement speaker Sunday by challenging USD’s Class of 2013 graduates.
“We’re looking to your generation to help solve this country’s problems, solve world problems. You can be the difference. You can make an impact on other people’s lives. Take that first step and get involved. When you hear the call, have the courage to answer. Any gesture, big or small helps. Rise to the occasion and be a Changemaker.”
His message was shared with 700-plus CAS graduates, but it is applicable to all 2,100 USD graduates — law, graduate and undergraduates — to heed.
Most of Brennan’s speech centered on his New York upbringing, going from a self-described troublemaker to an Catholic educational path that eventually brought him to San Diego and USD where he earned a BBA in marketing. The co-founder of 3/73 Management, LLC, and, since 2009 the manager of Enlightened Hospitality Group which has San Diego lounge, Stingaree, the Fabric Family restaurants and Campine Catering, has in recent years partnered his business ventures with nonprofit organizations that are working to solve major social problems.
One prime example of his work has come from helping his hometown of Rockaway, N.Y., in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy last October. Rockaway Reach, a disaster relief fund, has raised $1.7 million in private and large grants to help families there rebuild their homes and lives. Other successful efforts include his involvement in Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Catholic Charities of San Diego and the Tucson (Ariz.) Academy, a boarding school for homeless teens.
Brennan noted during his speech that Sunday’s graduation was extra special for him because Amanda Martinez, a former Tucson Academy student, was among CAS’ 2013 graduating class. Martinez earned a degree in English.
Brennan’s speech was one of many highlights of USD’s Commencement Weekend.
BACK ON CAMPUS: Three additional USD graduation ceremonies on campus featured alumni speakers. The School of Law’s May 18 commencement speaker was Michael Streit ’75 (JD). The former trial court judge and Iowa Supreme Court Justice for more than 27 years is a former recipient of the law school’s Distinguished Alumni award for his service to the profession and the courts. Roy Raphael (pictured, left), one of the first five engineering graduates in the Class of 1991, gave the fifth annual Black Graduate Recognition Ceremony’s keynote address on May 24. He is the director of operations for the U.S. Navy’s Satellite Program Office. Miguel Vasquez, who earned a degree in business administration in 1994, was the alumni speaker for the 18th annual Chicana/o Latina/o Graduation Ceremony. He’s a business development manager for The Entrust Group and chairman and executive member for the California Foundation Fund.
FAMILIAR SPEAKERS: While not USD alumni, the Graduate Schools and School of Business Administration/Engineering commencement speakers, Scott Sherman and Paul Rice, respectively, aren’t strangers to USD. Rice, president and CEO of Fair Trade USA, is an Ashoka Fellow and he’s visited the campus a few times to speak to students. Last year, he was at USD to celebrate the latter’s designation as a Fair Trade University. Sherman, executive director of the Transformative Action Institute, was on campus last November to lead an all-day workshop during USD’s Changemaker Fest. He also attended the USD-hosted Ashoka U Exchange in February.
ALCALA AWARDS: Kathryn Johnson and James Wykowski (both pictured, left) were the recipients of the USD Alcala Award, an honor given to one undergraduate female and one male who best reflect the university’s ideal for a holistic education. Both were academic standouts — Wykowski (3.77 GPA, BA Theatre Arts, minors English and Spanish) and Johnson (3.73 GPA, BA English with a creative writing emphasis, minors in Communication Studies and Leadership Studies) — and both held leadership roles in Residential Life, University Ministry and both studied internationally. Wykowski did Semester at Sea and Tijuana Spring Breakthrough while Johnson was a student leader for an El Salvador Immersion trip. Wykowski was a cantor for USD Founders Chapel Choir, worked in the Office of Student Affairs and USD Women’s Center and was director of wellness and sustainability for USD Associated Students. He also performed in several student theatre productions. Johnson was president of the Shelter San Diego Club, was a tutor at The Monarch School and an adventure guide for USD Outdoor Adventures. She’s starting a special education teaching certification program this summer in Chicago.
NROTC CEREMONY: Captain Patrick Rabun, USN, the first-year Commanding Officer for NROTC San Diego, directed the Spring Commissioning Ceremony, which was held in the Jenny Craig Pavilion for the first time on May 24. The ceremony featured keynote speaker Navy Rear Admiral Dixon R. Smith, commander for the Naval Region Southwest, and the commissioning of 50 Navy Ensigns and Marine Second Lieutenants. Fifteen commissionees were USD graduating seniors. Five students, Ensigns Kerri Englert, Matthew Jones and Luke Ogden and Second Lieutenants Marc Slaughter and Adam Harris received special academic recognition.
RECOGNITION: The Black Graduates Recognition Ceremony and Chicana/o Latina/o Graduates Recognition Celebration took place on Friday and Saturday, respectively. There were 41 students honored at the black graduates’ event in the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Theatre. Trailblazer Award winners were undergraduates Ophelia Augustine, Alesia Forte and Andrew Grimes and departing College of Arts and Sciences Dean Mary Boyd. Twenty-two graduates were feted in the Chicana/o Latina/o ceremony in Shiley Theatre. A senior video was shown and each graduate received a stole, a gift from the USD Alumni Association and the chance to thank their family and friends in the audience. USD English Professor Dr. Gail Perez gave the keynote address. Dinner at the UC Forums and a performance by the USD Folklorico and Mariachi Association took place.
TOP OF THE CLASS: Valedictorians William Tressel (College of Arts and Sciences, BA Math) and Milan Brandon (School of Business Administration, BBA, Economics) gave an inspired speech at their respective ceremonies.
Tressel compared his four years of a USD education and his experiences to climbing a steep hill. “The exercise we get from doing it prepares us for future hills we might climb,” he said. “USD has prepared us well for life after graduation.”
Tressel studied abroad in Budapest, Hungary, did summer research at Arizona State University and participated in University Ministry’s Tijuana Spring Breakthrough among other activities.
Brandon, who will pursue a law degree at University of Southern California, is the fourth family member with a USD degree.
“USD enriched us and challenged us. USD is a community first and an institution second. It’s a place that’s transformed us beyond our expectations; a place where an individual doesn’t get lost among thousands; where professors know and care about us; a place whose Catholic tradition creates a loving community and allows us to expand our horizons and rejoice in the possibilities in life. As we look toward our futures, our time at USD is a symbol of what can be accomplished when individuals are not only free to pursue our dreams, but we’re encouraged and given the tools to do so and develop a sense of duty of ourselves to each other.”
YOUR LEGACY: USD President Mary E. Lyons, PhD, provided an inspired message for the newest USD graduates: “You, the Class of 2013, are the university’s legacy. Those of us on this platform, especially your professors, come here to witness the fulfillment of their life’s work in you. Yes, the University of San Diego is not its buildings, its endowments or its programs. The University of San Diego is you. You’re the reason we’re here … your degree is a reminder that the inheritance you’ve earned is a legacy, a legacy that must now be given away. Be the University of San Diego for all whom you encounter in your professional and personal lives. And be especially mindful of those who are most desperately in need of your wonderful gifts.”
— Ryan T. Blystone
See more photos from the 2013 Commencement on USD’s Flickr page
View a replay of USD Graduate and Undergraduate ceremonies. Individual copies available for purchase.