By Alison Hewitt, UCLA News
The keynote speaker at this year’s UCLA graduation was Anita Ortega, a former UCLA basketball star, a first-generation college student and the first African-American woman to become a Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) area commander.
“Be relentless,” she advised, both on their own behalf and on behalf of the voiceless.
“I’m not a politician … I’m not a celebrity … I am Anita Ortega. A proud Bruin. A proud Afro-Puerto-Rican from South Central L.A.,” she said to loud cheers and foot-stomping.
“I was a girl who had the courage to dream.”
Oretga placed herself in the tradition of Bruins such as Tom Bradley, Los Angeles’s first Black mayor, and Antonio Villaraigosa, the first Latino mayor in the city’s modern history.
Despite both subtle and blatant discrimination, they didn’t give up, and neither did she, she said.
“I was challenged at every level, but you’re going to learn, life is full of challenges,” Ortega said. “Life is a never-ending learning process. As such, you’re all going to be tested.”
She described her determination to play basketball as a teenager and convincing the boys to accept a girl on the court. That same determination helped her get into her dream school, UCLA; to become a walk-on on the basketball team; and later, to become a police officer and area commander.
“No one thought Anita had a chance of doing anything with her life,” Ortega said. “It was never about proving them wrong – never about proving them wrong – but it was about proving that I was unstoppable.
“All of you are unstoppable. Be unstoppable … Be selfless. Don’t lose sight of the national issues impacting all of us: racism, sexism, gender bias, education, immigration, LGBTQ equality. Have a voice and be the voice for those that are not heard.”