Teach For America founder Wendy Kopp announced as UC Berkeley spring 2019 commencement speaker

Jesse Gil/Courtesy

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UC Berkeley announced Friday that the commencement speaker for the class of 2019 will be Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach For America and co-founder of Teach For All, garnering mixed reactions from graduating seniors.

The Senior Class Council, which invites speakers after polling the senior class in the summer and receiving approval from ASUC representatives and Chancellor Carol Christ, ultimately decided on the speaker for the May 18 commencement ceremony.

Kopp said in a statement that she is honored to deliver the speech. She added that she thinks this generation is the most educated and socially active one yet and that the generation is “ready to take vigorous action against inequity and injustice.”

“My vision is for you to become practicing idealists, who will create systemic change and actually solve the most pressing problems facing our society,” Kopp said in a statement.  

Kopp started Teach For America, or TFA, when she was in her early 20s, according to campus Teach For America Recruitment Manager Jessica Rossoni, who is a former news reporter for The Daily Californian. Rossoni said she thinks Kopp will recognize the UC Berkeley community as a group of students who care about things “bigger than themselves.”

UC Berkeley is one of the largest contributors to the organization in its number of students who join TFA, according to Rossoni. She said UC Berkeley students apply in high rates because of UC Berkeley’s values of equity and students’ desires to tie those values to a career.

Jesse Gil, the campus senior class president, said he thinks Kopp is a good person to deliver the address because of her message that “if you find something wrong, you can find a solution.” Gil added that he feels Kopp embodies this message by the way she sought to find solutions for problems in education.

“I really hope that she brings to our commencement a message to strive for greatness not only for yourself but the people around you to better our community and the world,” Gil said. “We shouldn’t only think about ourselves, but things that affect other people as well.”

TFA is a nonprofit organization that hires people who have received a bachelor’s degree with a GPA higher than 2.5 and are citizens, legal residents or people with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program status, according to the TFA website. TFA corps members begin with at least two years of work inside a classroom in under-resourced areas, according to the TFA website.

Kate Simonds, a campus senior studying political science, said in an email that she strongly disagrees with the mission of TFA because the organization “devalues educators as professionals and as critical components of our nation’s current and future wellbeing.” Simonds said in the email that she is “disappointed” that UC Berkeley would provide a platform for the organization.

“I don’t think Ms. Kopp’s band-aid solution for education is representative of the innovative, people-focused, and long-lasting problem solving strategies Berkeley has historically and famously sought to teach its students,” Simonds said in an email.

Laurel Weber, a campus senior studying mathematics, said she had learned about the “problematic aspects” of TFA in an education course. She stated she was “not stoked” for the commencement speech and will probably not attend the commencement.

Campus senior Isabella Blanco is currently an intern for TFA and will be a 2019 TFA corps member in Houston, Texas. She said in an email that she thinks Wendy Kopp is an “inspirational person.”

“At a point where many of us are contemplating our futures, it will be interesting to hear how Wendy Kopp turned an idea into a successful non-profit organization that fights to give all children a high quality education,” Blanco said in an email.

Contact Brennan Havens at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @BrennanHavens.