President Obama Invited to Speak at Special UCI Commencement

This past April, a committee comprised of UC Irvine staff and faculty sent an invitation to the White House requesting to have President Obama speak at a special commencement ceremony this upcoming spring. Intended to be open to all spring 2014 graduates, as well as two guests, the commencement ceremony will be an affair separate from the individual commencements normally held by each of the academic schools during which diplomas are conferred.

The event will mark the 50th anniversary of former President Lyndon B. Johnson’s dedication of UC Irvine’s grounds. On June 20, 1964, Johnson said, “All our hopes for peace depend on the kind of society we can build in the United States. And that in turn rests on our system of education.”

“The Anniversary Committee and campus leadership thought this would be a fitting way to recognize the 50th anniversary of that milestone and how UC Irvine has taken up President Johnson’s challenge,” Cathy Lawhon, chairwoman of the 50th Anniversary Planning Committee, said.

Comprised of UCI staff and faculty from a cross-section of administrative and academic departments, as well as one City of Irvine staff member, the committee had been discussing the idea of bringing Obama to speak for about a year, according to Lawhon. The committee, however, has no oversight regarding the content of Obama’s speech. When asked what themes Obama will speak on, Lawhon said that will be up to the president.

Although the initial invitation was sent by Chancellor Drake, who is not a part of the planning committee, additional opportunities to reach out to Obama are being overseen by the planning committee. The largest difficulty for the committee in bringing Obama to UCI is the most obvious one: his obligations as President of the United States.

“President Obama has thousands of requests for his time and we never know what might be going on in the world that would demand his attention,” Lawhon said.

The planning committee received confirmation of the invitation’s receipt shortly after they sent it in April. According to Lawhon, there is still much planning to do and more details will be shared once logistics are finalized.