Maria Elena Durazo(Moraga, Calif., Jan.21, 2010) - Saint Mary's College of California will hold its 147th Commencement on Saturday, May 22, 2010, at 9:30 a.m. with an expected 500 undergraduates receiving diplomas at SMC Stadium. More than 180 graduate students will receive diplomas the following Sunday, May 23, 2010, at 2 p.m. at the McKeon Pavilion.

Maria Elena Durazo, an alumna of Saint Mary's College (‘75), will deliver the Commencement address to Saint Mary's undergraduates. Durazo has served as Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor since 2006. The federation represents 350 local unions and has more than 800,000 workers in key industries, such as transportation, construction, education, entertainment media and janitorial and hospitality services.

Prior to becoming the first woman to lead the nation's second-largest labor federation, Durazo built the hotel workers union, UNITE-HERE, Local 11, into one of the most active unions in Los Angeles County. Her hard work led her to become the first Latina elected to the Executive Board of HERE International Union in 1996. She later became Executive Vice President of the labor organization.

An influential political force in the state, Durazo was the first prominent Hispanic Californian to endorse then-Senator Barack Obama for president. Currently she is Chair of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy and as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's appointee to the Los Angeles Economy and Jobs Committee. She was also elected to the Board of Directors for LA Inc., the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau and also is Chair of the UCLA Labor Center Advisory Committee.

The daughter of Mexican immigrant farm workers, Durazo learned the importance of hard work and determination early in life. She traveled with her parents and nine siblings from Oregon to California to work in the fields. Her dedication to the rights of workers is rooted in her family's experience. It was reflected in her academic work as a student at Saint Mary's College and the Peoples College of Law, and it continues to inform her perspective today as a leader in the nation's labor movement.

"Maria Elena‘s leadership promotes fundamental improvement in the lives of working people - a value that is central to Catholic social teaching," said Brother President Ronald Gallagher. "She epitomizes what is possible with faith, courage and a commitment to civic engagement. I look forward to her wise advice to our students and their families."

Maria Elena Durazo is a resident of Los Angeles, the mother of two sons, Mario and Michael, grandmother to Seneca and the widow of Miguel Contreras, former Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO.

Jack O'ConnellJack O'Connell, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction for California will deliver the Commencement address to Saint Mary's graduate students. O'Connell was elected as the leader of the state's department of education in November 2002.

The chief executive of California's public school system and leader of the Department of Education, O'Connell has focused on closing the achievement gap and preparing students for a rapidly changing global economy. He is a fervent supporter and facilitator of partnerships between schools, businesses, communities and philanthropies in order to engage students with challenging real-world education experiences.

Previously, he represented the Central Coast for two decades in the California State Legislature. He was elected to the State Assembly in 1982 and the State Senate in 1994. As a state senator, he authored the legislation creating the California High School Exit Exam and has led a comprehensive effort to increase rigor and improve student achievement in state public high schools.

Educating California's students to be competitive on the global stage is of the utmost importance, according to O'Connell. He hopes to share his commitment to that goal with the College's graduate students - especially those receiving advanced education degrees. "Many Saint Mary's students will find themselves at the very center of this effort in our classrooms. I am confident in their abilities and am honored to address them as they embark on this journey."

A native of Glen Cove, New York, O'Connell moved to Southern California with his family in 1958, where he attended local public schools. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from California State University (CSU), Fullerton and received a secondary teaching credential from CSU, Long Beach in 1975. He returned to his high school alma mater to teach for several years and later served on the Santa Barbara County School Board.

Jack O'Connell and his wife, Doree, have been married for more than 30 years and have a daughter, Jennifer, who is 23.

Contact 

Michael McAlpin
Director of Media Relations
(925) 631-4222 office
(925) 878-9535 mobile
mdm5@stmarys-ca.edu

About SMC 
The Saint Mary’s College of California experience inspires learning that lasts a lifetime. For nearly 150 years, the College has provided students with a rigorous education that engages their intellect and spirit, and awakens a desire to transform society. Guided by the Christian Brothers, the Catholic Church’s oldest order dedicated exclusively to teaching, the College enrolls more than 3,800 students in undergraduate and graduate liberal arts and business programs. For more information visit Saint Mary’s College at stmarys-ca.edu and just 23 miles east of San Francisco.
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