By Mike McAlpin
Photo by Kat Wade
Nearly 550 seniors graduated in the 147th commencement at Saint Mary's College on May 22. Commencement speaker Maria Elena Durazo '75, the head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, passed on greetings from President Barack Obama, with whom she dined at his state dinner for Mexico President Felipe Calderon on May 19.
"I want you to congratulate Saint Mary's basketball team, the Gaels, for its tremendous success this year in making it to the NCAA Sweet 16," Durazo quoted Obama as saying.
Durazo recalled her struggles growing up as the child of migrant farm workers and said Saint Mary's College provided her and her parents with a comfort level because of its values and its educational mission.
"My father and mother put a lot of faith in this college without knowing much about it. But they knew the Christian Brothers would take care of their daughter — that I would come out a learned and a good person," she said.
Alex Branch, who delivered the valedictory address, said the graduating class got more out of the College than the courses they took.
"Nowhere on my degree will it indicate that I lived in a Brothers' community in New Zealand and taught high school math for three months," he said. "Nowhere will it show that I traveled to Houston to support the men's basketball team in the Sweet 16. Nowhere will it show that I once climbed Half Dome in a snowstorm with one of my best friends from Saint Mary's."
The following day, about 240 people graduated from master's and doctoral programs in the Kalmanovitz School of Education and five programs in the School of Liberal Arts: LEAP (Liberal Education for Arts Professions), Kinesiology, Graduate Liberal Studies, Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing and Master of Arts in Leadership.
State schools Superintendent Jack O'Connell delivered the commencement address, saying, "You will all play some role in the functioning of our great state. And no matter how small or large that role, it is an important role, because California survives and thrives thanks to the efforts of not only one or a group of citizens, but thanks to the efforts of all of her citizens."