UC Irvine secured President Barack Obama as its spring 2014 commencement speaker Thursday, a feat one UC Berkeley junior hopes to achieve for his graduating class next year.
Elias Saigali and the organization Students for Change have been campaigning to bring the president to deliver the 2015 general commencement address in recent months. Although some students are concerned that Obama’s decision to speak at UCI may decrease the likelihood of the president coming to another UC campus just a year later, Saigali said the announcement has only motivated him further.
“This is just another obstacle,” Saigali said. “We also want to congratulate UC Irvine on this and feel privileged that our sister university will have him speak. We’re honored to have him at any UC.”
The campaign has garnered campus and university support in the form of an ASUC Senate bill, approval from UC President Janet Napolitano and recent confirmation from Chancellor Nicholas Dirks that he will co-sign a formal invitation to the president and join Saigali in the initiative.
Saigali’s effort has also received local media attention from ABC7 News, which interviewed him earlier this week about the campaign. Saigali hopes the official support from Dirks and Napolitano and further outreach to larger media outlets will attract the president’s attention.
Napolitano issued an enthusiastic response to the White House’s Thursday announcement.
“I’m thrilled — for UC Irvine and the University of California system — that President Obama will speak at the June commencement celebrating the 50th anniversary of ground breaking for the Irvine campus,” Napolitano said in the statement. “The UC Irvine community — students, faculty, staff, trustees and alumni — deserve all of the credit for making this happen.”
Saigali said UC Berkeley’s campaign is on track with the timeline of UC Irvine’s efforts to bring the president to their campus. He will continue to draft the formal invitation to the president and said the campaign will move into “full force” after students return from spring break.
“We have our foot in the door in terms of getting the president to speak at a UC,” Saigali said. “While many others are thinking this will hinder the progress, I think it’ll be beneficial.”
Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown and Attorney General Eric Holder spoke to the political science department and IC Berkeley School of Law commencement ceremonies, respectively. Obama would be the first government official to speak at UC Berkeley’s general commencement in more than a decade and only the second president to do so.