Editor’s note: The July 14 edition of The Rafu Shimpo includes our annual graduation supplement, as we salute the Class of 2020. This year has been unlike any other in living memory, and the challenges of this era extended to assembling stories and lists for our special issue. Below is the text of the keynote speech delivered by actor and activist George Takei during UCLA’s virtual commencement ceremony.
By GEORGE TAKEI
Congratulations to the Class of 2020! And congratulations to UCLA on its centennial! This historic convergence makes you, the Class of 2020, an exceptional graduating class. You are THE centennial graduating class. There will never be another UCLA class like yours. You are unique Bruins.
I, too, am a Bruin … but not as special as all of you. I graduated from UCLA in 1960. Half a century plus a decade ago! The circumstances are different, but the feeling of hope in the future is the same.
Today we gather virtually to celebrate the conferral of your degrees in a uniquely 21st-century hi-tech way. But, rest assured, your hard-earned degrees will be real. You guys are so futuristic! And I am comfortable being with you virtually because I spent a good part of my acting career in science fiction soaring through the 23rd-century galaxy at the helm of the starship Enterprise, boldly going where no one had gone before.
Make no mistake, you also will be going where no one has gone before.
You are living in pandemic quarantine, and with that comes fear, stress, and challenges. But in quarantine, you also are living through extraordinary human history. You are seeing heroes: frontline medical workers feverishly working to save the sick; researchers urgently searching for vaccines.
And out of this tumult emerge unsung heroes from unexpected places. Factory workers giving of themselves tirelessly, day and night, producing desperately needed masks and gowns. Bus drivers, risking exposure, transporting essential workers to their jobs. Volunteer nurses traveling from distant states to the very epicenter of the pandemic to help front-line medical staffers.
COVID-19 is relentless. The quarantine is playing havoc with our economy. Commerce has plunged precipitously. People have been ordered to work from home using technology, and, tens of millions more have been made jobless. Desperate people are demonstrating at state capitols – some carrying assault weapons. And where we expect leadership, we find shocking dysfunction. It is a virtual dystopian state. We live in a time of heroes and menaces.
In the midst of this dark moment, a totally unexpected change has suddenly happened all around us. The blue vastness of the sky has turned impossibly pure. The air is crystal clear. Lawns look greener and lusher. Trees have become luxuriantly leafy. Even the songbirds seem happier. And the far-away hills have never looked so near. Our planet is new again. And this is not virtual. It is breathtakingly real.
This miracle has happened because of us. We made it happen … ironically, because of what we didn’t do. What we did not do was use fossil fuel-guzzling vehicles – cars, trucks, trains and airplanes. Factory smokestacks that pollute the air were stilled. And the spring rain washed the air clean. We have seen the renewal of our world … and our conduct created this miracle.
You, the extraordinary generation, are a part of this extraordinary phenomenon. And you, our youth, can create a new version of our future.
So, we look to you, the high-tech geeration, to seize this moment. This planet has been, however briefly, returned to its primal state. Now let us seek out our own human essence, the primal us. What makes us … us? We are the most intelligent animal who walk the Earth. But humans are more than that. We are also individually distinctive, each one of us with our own singular characteristics.
Some of you are hunters. You search for and seek out facts. Others are gatherers, collecting, sharing and inventing. A number of you are builders, making structures that reach higher and higher or as entrepreneurs taking ideas and developing them into new ventures. And there are those who think differently, the artists, the poets and the outliers among you.
And from each of these distinct groups will rise those with the strength of character, wisdom and capacity to inspire others as leaders. You are so diverse and yet you are one…the Bruins of the centennial 2020 class. This is your moment — look ahead, claim a newly imagined future.
The crew of the starship Enterprise was guided by an acronym. IDIC, for “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.” Your class is made up of unique individuals all aligned with a necessary common goal – to improve the human condition. You, the infinitely diverse hi-tech class have the whole of human history, the glorious and the ugly, as your launching pad.
Now, with the experience of the pandemic, challenge yourselves to imagine the unimagined. You have technology that dazzles the mind. Soar with it. Aspire as no others have. Cleanse our planet. Revitalize our civilization.
Discover new challenges. Stretch as far as you can. Boldly go where no one has gone before.
May the UCLA Centennial 2020 Class live long and prosper.