UC Berkeley alumnus and former head of the Levi Strauss & Co. Robert D. Haas was named the winter 2019 commencement keynote speaker, according to a campuswide email sent Friday morning.
Haas, who graduated valedictorian in 1964, is considered as one of the “campus’s closest friends and most generous philanthropists,” according to the email, which also states that he is known for advocating for social change, increased diversity and inclusion.
In his commencement speech, Haas said in the email that he wants the graduates to “prepare for a lifetime of stepping outside of their comfort zones, asking questions and always looking for better answers.”
Since Haas left the campus student community, he has gone on to participate in the Peace Corps, where he worked in the Ivory Coast. Nine years later, he joined his great-great-grandnephew’s company, the Levi Strauss & Co., where he served as the CEO from 1984 to 1999.
As the Levi Strauss & Co. CEO, Haas maintained a strong commitment to corporate citizenship, according to the email. For example, he made Levi Strauss & Co the first company to enforce both environmental and labor protections. Under his leadership, the company also offered health care benefits to its employees’ unmarried partners.
“He is an esteemed example of how people can give back to society after great success and create a legacy,” said Paulina Jeng, a senior at UC Berkeley majoring in media studies, in the email.
Haas joined the board of Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, which has provided more than $601 million in grants to organizations that work to elicit social change.
One of these gifts was recently given to the campus in an effort to “strengthen equity on campus and to make Berkeley more welcoming and inclusive,” according to the email.
“Berkeley was a transformational experience for me,” Haas said in the email. “I believe the same is true for many of the students in the Class of 2019.”