Campaign to bring President Barack Obama to commencement ends without success

Carli Baker/File

President Barack Obama will not speak at the campus’ spring commencement, ending a campaign led by a UC Berkeley student organization to bring the president to campus this year.

The campus received verbal confirmation on the matter from the White House’s scheduling office last week, according to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof.

The campaign, which began in fall 2013, was spearheaded by UC Berkeley senior Elias Saigali and his organization, Students for Change at Berkeley. Saigali’s eforts garnered campus and university support in the form of an ASUC Senate bill, approval from UC President Janet Napolitano and a formal invitation to the president extended by Chancellor Nicholas Dirks.

The efforts met a roadblock, however, when UC Irvine secured the president as its 2014 commencement speaker.

“It would’ve bent too many people out of shape politically for him to speak at a UC two years in a row,” Saigali said. “When that notion hit me, I realized the reality that it wouldn’t work out.”

Upon receiving the news last week of the president’s decision to formally decline the invitation to speak, the chancellor’s office notified Saigali privately. The White House will also send a letter of regret to the campus in the coming weeks, according to Saigali.

Mogulof also negated a rumor that had circulated on various social media platforms in March, which had named Guy Fieri as the spring commencement speaker.

The campus has not yet announced its speaker selection for the event.

“Getting the president to speak would have been a minor accomplishment compared to the support I received at every step of this process,” Saigali said. “Because of this campaign, I’ll leave this institution with a greater understanding of its bureaucracy and its vast support system.”

Chloee Weiner is a news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @_chloeew .

Clarification(s):
A previous version of this article may have implied that Students for Change at Berkeley has been active for the last two semesters. In fact, the organization ceased collective work after the spring 2014 semester and only Saigali has worked on the campaign since.