Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti urged graduates to “topple” walls, “cross borders,” and embrace globalization during a commencement speech at Occidental College on Sunday morning.
“Today, graduation marks the physical and temporal crossing of a border,” Garcetti told the 456 members of Occidental’s Class of 2019. “My core message to you as graduates is to encourage you to cross borders. To find comfort in the uncomfortable. You see, you’ve all crossed borders and walls to come here today.”
Garcetti went on to detail his family’s multi-cultural lineage, describing himself as “half Chicano and half Jewish.”
“Today, the grandson of a border-crosser leads this city,” Garcetti said to the 3,800 people in attendance, some of whom broke into applause.
He continued: “I believe that your individual and collective success will not be defined just by how swiftly you scale the walls before you, but by how strongly you can topple them down altogether, to build a better, more sympathetic, and more connected world.”
The mayor then spoke about an increase of physical barriers in Europe, claiming, “the anxiety and fear born out of globalization and technological advancement” has led “people to put up even more walls.”
“Fear that our jobs will be lost to automation, fear of a diverse workplace or neighborhood, or that to be part of an integrated economy means the surrender of your national identity, as we see playing out in Britain today,” Garcetti continued. “Too many human beings fear the future that this fast-paced, interconnected global economy will leave us left out and left behind.”
“Some say the answer is building more walls. But today I say the answer is the opposite. We need to cross borders.”
As the mayor wrapped up his speech, he referenced the hit HBO show “Game of Thrones” which broadcasted its series finale hours after the graduation ceremony ended.
“The Great Wall didn’t succeed in keeping anybody out of China,” Garcetti concluded. “The Germans bombed and went around the Maginot Line. The Berlin Wall divided a German people until it fell. Even the greatest wall of all didn’t keep out the White Walkers.”
Garcetti received his B.A. and M.A. from Columbia University in New York City and studied overseas as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and the London School of Economics. Before addressing the graduates on Sunday, Occidental officials awarded Garcetti with the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.
Garcetti’s first full-time job was as an assistant professor for Occidental’s Diplomacy & World Affairs Department in 1999-2000. During that time, he described himself as “a part-time academic and full-time activist.” In 2001, Garcetti was elected to the Los Angeles City Council, where he served until taking office as mayor twelve years later.
Former President Barack H. Obama attended Occidental for two years as an undergraduate, from 1979 to 1981.
Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter @JeffreyCawood.