UCLA Medal Presentation to Congressman John Lewis

Winston C. Doby Lecture, Royce Hall

April 10, 2017

Good morning, and welcome to UCLA! I’m thrilled to welcome Congressman John Lewis to our campus, and to see such a cross section of our community. Your presence here speaks to the importance of this day, during such a pivotal moment in our nation’s history.

For more than a half-century, John Lewis has been one of the strongest and most enduring voices of the American conscience.

He is a visionary who has changed our nation through his courage to practice nonviolence in the face of hostility, through his tireless efforts on behalf of humanity and through his belief that a shared commitment to truth can bridge even the deepest divide.

And for nearly a century, UCLA has been a beacon of hope and opportunity, a sanctuary for freedom of thought and expression and an engine of change and progress for the people of Los Angeles, California and our nation.

So, Congressman Lewis, I hope you feel at home here, and that you know UCLA shares your commitment to compassion and integrity, to equality and respect. And that we share your belief that we are stronger when we work together. Just as you have done, UCLA will continue to encourage people young and old to take a stand against injustice.

And to our audience, especially our students, I hope you all will be inspired by what you’ll hear today.

In March of 1965, at a peaceful march in Alabama, John Lewis and hundreds of others were brutally attacked by those who wanted to deny voting rights to African-Americans. History would record the day as “Bloody Sunday.” Mr. Lewis, who was asking only that his nation keep the promise it made to him, suffered a concussion, merely for insisting that he be treated equally.

Let’s not mince words: Congressman John Lewis is quite simply a living legend. A man who at just 25 years old was committed to changing the world, and willing to risk his life in order to do it. From his time as chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, when he organized student activism for civil rights, to his decades of service in Congress, he has dedicated his life to equality and fairness. 

He has never wavered on issues important to our nation. Never stood still when confronted with injustice. Never allowed us to forget our past, or to give up on a better future.

In his own words, “We don’t want to go back. We want to go forward.”

No doubt our students can learn from Congressman Lewis’s extraordinary example: that they, too, can be agents of change and progress. That they can find common ground through reasoned discourse and understanding. That they can learn how powerful their voices can be if they work together.

We are grateful to Congressman Lewis for his sacrifices. Sacrifices that have made it possible for us to be here today, at a university that is home to black intellectuals and activists, artists and educators, scientists and engineers. Leaders in nearly every field. Scholars whose contributions not only have bettered our society but also helped make UCLA a world-class institution.

Today, we welcome Congressman Lewis to our campus’s most iconic space to bestow upon him our highest honor, the UCLA Medal. The UCLA Medal was established in 1979 as the university’s highest honor. It’s reserved for individuals who have made truly extraordinary contributions to their professions, to higher education, to our society and to the people of UCLA. 

Previous recipients include heads of state; renowned scientists, artists and scholars; peacemakers; social reformers; and giants of commerce. Today, we are very proud to add the name of Congressman Lewis to that distinguished roster.

It’s now my privilege—one of the greatest I have had as chancellor—to present Congressman John Lewis with the UCLA Medal. The UCLA Medal bears the university seal on one side and a depiction of Royce Hall on the other.

The medal is accompanied by a citation, which reads as follows:

JOHN ROBERT LEWIS

A courageous hero of the Civil Rights Movement and a widely respected member of the United States Congress … you have selflessly dedicated your life to securing civil liberties for your fellow Americans.

You have provided moral leadership through some of the most seminal moments in the struggle for justice … repeatedly risking your life for the greater good.

You continue to stand tall at the vanguard of progressive social movements … advancing education, voting rights, the democratic process and equality for all.

For your unwavering faith in humanity and your untiring fight for a better world, we proudly bestow upon you the UCLA Medal.

 

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