5 CSU Commencemen​t Addresses Worth Rewatching

Revisit these historic speeches that proved to be crowd pleasers.​


Envision yourself awash in a sea of thousands of your fellow students—perched on a folding chair atop a lush lawn or tucked into stadium seats in a massive arena. Exhaustion and excitement coalesce into pride as you wait patiently for your turn to cross the stage and commemorate this momentous achievement. But, first, a speech.

Each spring, college commencement planners invite prominent public figures to deliver a bit of advice, a subtle warning, or even a life lesson to graduating student​s. These speakers aim to inspire graduates as they prepare to use the knowledge gained at the CSU to make their mark on the state and nation.

As we kick off the 2023 commencement season, w​e revisit a few historic addresses from CSU commencement ceremonies. ​

John F. Kennedy

35th President of the United States
San Diego State, 1963

President John F. Kennedy delivered this 1963 commencement address in the Aztec Bowl of what was then San Diego State College. Kennedy was also awarded an honorary Doctor of Law degree—the first of its kind at any California State University.

Alicia Garza

Writer, Civil Rights Activist
San Francisco State, 2017

SF State alumna Alicia Garza (’17), who spoke on behalf of graduate students at the university’s 2017 commencement ceremony, declared her speech to be “an ode to Black women.” Garza is the co-creator of the Black Lives Matter Global Network and principal of the Black Futures Lab, an innovation and experimentation lab focused on new ways of engaging Black communities civically.

Victor Glover

U.S. Navy Captain, NASA Astronaut
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, 2020

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo alumnus Victor Glover ('99) delivered an out-of-this-world commencement address to the class of 2020 from the International Space Station orbiting 250 miles above Earth. Glover was recently selected to pilot NASA's Artemis II mission around the moon, the first crewed mission on NASA's path to establishing a long-term lunar presence for science and exploration.

Forest Whitaker

Actor, Social Activist
CSU Dominguez Hills, 2015

Academy-Award winning actor Forest Whitaker served as the keynote speaker for CSU Dominguez Hills’ College of Arts and Humanities 2015 commencement ceremony. Whitaker received an honorary degree from CSU Dominguez Hills for his humanitarian work as the founder and CEO of the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI), an international non-profit organization that helps societies impacted by destructive conflicts transform into safer and more prosperous communities.

Eleni Kounalakis

California Lieutenant Governor, CSU Board of Trustees Member
Cal Poly Pomona, 2019

Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis shared her personal story and congratulated the Class of 2019 at Cal Poly Pomona’s commencement ceremony for the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences. Kounalakis became the first Greek American woman to serve as a U.S. Ambassador when she was appointed to Hungary by President Barack Obama in 2010 and she is the first woman elected to serve as California Lieutenant Governor.

The CSU will honor more than 100,000 graduates across its 23 campuses this spring, recognizing their academic achievements, extracurricular accomplishments, service work and perseverance. See how CSU commencement ceremonies will celebrate this year’s graduates.