Speakers Named for Spring Undergraduate Commencements

Surgeon General, College District Head and Astronaut Will Speak

Combined photos of three people: Nadine Burke Harris, Francisco Rodriguez and Tracy Caldwell Dyson.
Nadine Burke Harris, Francisco Rodriguez and Tracy Caldwell Dyson will be the guest speakers for UC Davis’ three undergraduate commencements in June.

Alumni distinguished as leaders in public health, education — and even outer space — have been named as the guest speakers for the campus’s three undergraduate commencements in June.

Nadine Burke Harris, the state’s first surgeon general, will address thousands of graduates and their guests at the ceremony on June 12; Francisco Rodriguez, chancellor of the Los Angeles Community College District, on June 13; and NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson, on June 14.

The selection of these prominent guest speakers comes among changes to spring commencements to celebrate UC Davis as a whole and bring added attention to it as a leading public university. What had been seven ceremonies organized by the four undergraduate colleges have been consolidated into three, and they will be held outdoors at UC Davis Health Stadium.

Nadine Burke Harris

Nadine Burke Harris

Burke Harris, who earned her medical degree from UC Davis in 2001, has been a clinician, researcher and advocate helping educate people about how traumatic experiences as a child can have lifelong health consequences. She said adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, and toxic stress are the public health crises of our day and authored the award-winning book The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Aversity. California’s surgeon general since January, Burke Harris is implementing, in partnership with the state Department of Health Care Services, the California law that offers reimbursement to Medi-Cal providers for the screening of ACEs — including abuse, neglect and other potentially traumatic experiences — and advancing the science around toxic stress.

In an interview about her appointment as California’s chief doctor, Burke Harris told UC Davis Health Magazine that it was at UC Davis that she learned to be a community doctor and the skills of listening and observing patients. While at the medical school, she served as co-director of its student-run Imani Clinic. 

Francisco Rodriguez

Francisco Rodriguez

Rodriguez earned both a bachelor’s degree in Chicano studies  in 1985 and a master’s degree in community development in 1997 from Davis. He has served California’s students for more than 30 years and been a champion for diversity, equity and inclusion. Rodriguez was president of Cosumnes River College in Sacramento and superintendent/president of MiraCosta College before being appointed in 2014 to his current role as head of the nation’s largest community college district.

He has also led committees and boards of the National Science Foundation; the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine; and other organizations. Rodriguez chaired the Cal Aggie Alumni Association and has served as a trustee of the UC Davis Foundation.

Tracy Caldwell Dyson

Tracy Caldwell Dyson
Caldwell Dyson

Caldwell Dyson, who earned a doctorate in chemistry from Davis in 1997, is a veteran of two spaceflights in 2007 and 2010 and three spacewalks during the latter. Selected as an astronaut in 1998, she has served as a mission specialist and flight engineer and in other roles supporting space exploration. Caldwell Dyson has designed, constructed and implemented electronics and hardware for studying chemistry and presented papers on methods of chemical ionization. At Davis, she was recognized as the outstanding doctoral student in chemistry in 1997.

The administration invited the campus community to nominate speakers.

Graduate Studies and the six professional schools also hold ceremonies in the spring and usually have guest speakers.

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