Award-Winning Journalist John Diaz, Human Rights Advocate Deborah Richardson Named 2017 SMC Commencement Speakers

Two remarkable individuals—one, an award-winning journalist and editor for the San Francisco Chronicle; and the other, a recognized human rights crusader against child sex-trafficking—will address undergraduate and graduate and professional studies students at the 2017 Commencement ceremonies of Saint Mary's College of California.

John Diaz, the San Francisco Chronicle’s acclaimed editorial page editor will deliver the Commencement address for the College’s undergraduates. Deborah Richardson, a Saint Mary’s alumna and senior advisor of partner engagement for the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, will offer the Commencement address to Saint Mary’s graduate and professional studies students.

An expected 680 students will receive their diplomas at the Undergraduate Commencement on Saturday, May 27, 2017, at 9 a.m. at SMC Stadium. An estimated 640 students will receive diplomas on Sunday, May 28, 2017 at 9:30 a.m. at the Graduate and Professional Studies Commencement at SMC Stadium.

John Diaz, His Opinions Matter

San Francisco Chronicle Editorial Page Editor John DiazFor nearly 30 years John Diaz has written about, or reported on, local and national matters affecting the diverse and dynamic communities in the Bay Area. He has served as the San Francisco Chronicle’s opinion page editor since 1996 and has helped illuminate issues of public concern to benefit those in San Francisco and beyond. Under his direction, the newspaper’s editorial campaigns on financial privacy and the deficiencies in California’s foster care system led to landmark state legislation and were recognized with national journalism awards.

Diaz is widely acknowledged as an authoritative voice on issues ranging from the economics of sports to the quests of Bay Area teams for new venues to California politics—he served as one of the moderators of last year’s U.S. Senate debate.

“It is a distinctive opportunity to have a renowned journalist such as John Diaz address Saint Mary’s graduating class of 2017,” said President James Donahue. “He possesses an unwavering commitment to ensuring that Bay Area citizens are informed about critical issues affecting their communities, and he is a consistent advocate for correcting inequities in our society. I believe our graduates will benefit from his thoughtful insights about the role of information and the media in our contemporary context.”

Diaz, who is one of the key leaders in the San Francisco Chronicle’s “Visionary of the Year” partnership with Saint Mary’s, said he holds the educational mission of the College in great esteem. “I’m truly honored by the opportunity to address the Saint Mary’s class of 2017. My goal will be to encourage and help guide them on how to bring the idealism, optimism, and intellectual curiosity that has been nurtured on their campus into a world that needs an infusion of each.”

His San Francisco Chronicle career began in 1990 as an assistant city editor. He directed the newspaper’s East Bay news coverage, before joining the opinion pages. He has reported for The Denver Post, Associated Press in Philadelphia, and the Donrey Media Group in Washington, D.C.

Diaz has been recognized for his exemplary work in the newsroom by some of the nation’s most prestigious journalism organizations, including the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, National Headliners Awards, Scripps Howard Foundation, and Society of Professional Journalists. Among his many accomplishments, Diaz is proud of his service as a four-time juror for the Pulitzer Prize, the nation’s highest honor for newspaper, magazine, and online reporting.

A firm believer in giving back, Diaz volunteers for Meals on Wheels and mentors young journalists as part of his longtime affiliation with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

He earned his undergraduate degree in journalism from Humboldt State University in 1977, and received a Distinguished Alumni Award from HSU in 2009.

Warrior for Women and Girls

Deborah Richardson '13, senior advisor of partner engagement of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta.In an Atlanta juvenile courtroom in 2000, Deborah Richardson MA ’13 witnessed a booking that deeply impacted her professional life. A 10-year-old girl, handcuffed and shackled, was sent to jail on a curfew violation after being found in a van with a 42-year-old man who had rented her for sex. The man was slapped with a $50 fine and let go. At the time, pimping and pandering a child for sex was a misdemeanor in Georgia, but not for long.

Richardson helped lead a campaign to change the law to a felony, and raised $1 million to open Angela’s House, the first safe house for sexually exploited girls in the Southeast. “People thought sex trafficking happened over in Thailand and Bangkok,” said Richardson, who also organized over 20 organizations in 2010 to force Craigslist.com to close down its adult services site, where adolescent girls were being peddled for sex. In 2014, she launched the International Human Trafficking Institute, which engages college students to help fight against sex and labor trafficking.

Richardson has more than 30 years experience as a successful senior executive in notable nonprofit organizations. Currently the senior advisor for partner engagement at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, she also served as the Center’s executive vice president for nearly four years. Her background includes serving as the chief program officer of the Women's Funding Network in San Francisco, chief executive officer for the Atlanta Women’s Foundation and founding executive director for the Fulton County Juvenile Justice Fund.

“Deborah Richardson’s efforts in the service of at-risk young women and girls reflect her extraordinary leadership, outstanding moral character, and commitment to prevent exploitation in our society,” said President Donahue. “We are extremely proud of her as a Saint Mary’s alumna. I hope our graduate and professional studies students will be inspired by her remarks and see in her social justice work what is possible when an individual becomes a change agent for the common good.”

Richardson, who earned her master’s in leadership from Saint Mary’s in 2013, said she was honored to deliver the Commencement address. She added that her hope is to offer a message of empowerment, encouraging graduates to take action against society’s wrongs. “We each have a choice to make: We can stay on the sidelines and be a bystander to injustices or use our privilege of education to be an upstander for equity and access for all.”

Her civic engagement and social justice work has earned Richardson many prestigious awards, including Spelman College’s Change Agent Award, Atlanta Tribune Magazine’s Superwoman of the Year, and the Auburn Theological Seminary’s Lives of Commitment Award. 

Richardson is currently a doctoral candidate in public policy and social change at Union Institute and University.