Dear Representative John Lewis,
I am a graduating senior at UC San Diego who heard that you will be boycotting UCSD’s graduation commencement ceremony in solidarity with UC workers, who recently organized a strike for better wages, benefits, and racial/gender equity. I (and many other students) support the union in their strike and negotiations, but I was very much looking forward to seeing you speak. Needless to say, I feel conflicted about your decision.
Granted, the precise reason that I hold you in such high regard, Mr. Lewis, is that you have no qualms with protesting for what’s right; from your role in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s to the ongoing battle against gun violence, you have brought the strength of your voice and your convictions every step of the way. It was that voice I hoped to hear at commencement, and I do wonder if your absence will actually speak louder than your words could have.
Indeed, the vacuum created by your absence will be filled by UCSD Chancellor Pradeep Khosla, a man who is the human embodiment of the administration you have sought to protest. Graduating students will now hear Khosla speak instead: Khosla, who has been conspicuously silent on workers’ rights; Khosla, who has to this day provided no public response to the study that found the UC system underpays women of color. Instead of receiving an address from you, a man who stands with the UC workers, the 2018 graduating class will receive an address from a man who, at best, does not care about them, and at worst, stands firmly against them. Will the UC administration change their position because of your (and Senator Kamala Harris’s) boycott? I do hope so, but I fear that you may be punishing students instead of the administration itself (which has already collected non-refundable money from soon-to-be-graduates through the use of your name); I fear that you may be forsaking an opportunity to impart unto myself and my fellow students the importance of workers’ rights and racial/gender equity.
In conclusion, Mr. Lewis, I want to say I understand that my personal disappointment at not being able to see you speak weighs but a feather in comparison to the heavy issue of the UC’s exploitation of its workers—I hope your protest achieves its intended result. That being said, I do feel that you owe graduating students here at UCSD—many of whom have supported UC workers in their strike in one capacity or another—some sort of statement. It would be a shame to feel that you have scorned us right along with the UC institution. If you let us know what this boycott means to you, what you hope to achieve, and what we can learn from it, perhaps that would make an even greater impact than an address would have.
Pravin Wilkins is a San Diego native (and sad Chargers fan) and a fourth year Literature/Writing & Political Science double major. After graduation, he will be moving to Pittsburgh to pursue an MFA in dramatic writing at Carnegie Mellon University.
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