UCLA alumnus and newly elected U.S. Rep. Jimmy Gomez has not forgotten his higher education roots, advocating for students at every step of his political career.
You don’t have to convince U.S. Rep. Jimmy Gomez about the power of higher education, not even a little bit.
“When I graduated from high school, I didn’t have any plans to go to college,” he said. “I worked at Subway and Target right after graduation. Working those two jobs back to back just to make ends meet was a grueling experience.”
Each day, Gomez transformed from “sandwich artist” between 5 and 10:30 p.m. to stocker overnight and into the morning. The routine was tough on him.
Dennis Gutierrez is always ready to extoll the virtues of UCLA and higher education.
Dennis Gutierrez is a man with a message. He has never been afraid to speak up, and that stick-to-itiveness has served him well in every new vocation and every cause he’s promoted, including that of his alma mater UCLA.
“I’ve had nine careers in my life,” he said with a laugh reflecting on his own personal resume. “It’s like, ‘What do you do?’ Look, I learned a long time ago that you follow your passion. If you do not follow your passion, it’s work, and if it’s work, you’ll never be good at it.”
Juana Hernandez uses her position at the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce to help students and build partnerships with higher education institutions.
It takes a Westwood Village? Juana Hernandez, who graduated from UCLA in 2009, said she owes a lot to the greater UCLA community, a community she has been an active member of since graduating, paying it forward to the next generation of students.
Her parents immigrated to Southern California from Guanajuato, Mexico in the 1970s. They wanted to give their children the best shot they could in America, and understood the importance of education in that process, but their experience with the U.S. education system wasn’t just limited, it was non-existent.
Hernandez, however, came out the other side stronger than ever, putting in the kind of civic work for students and higher education that has garnered her the UCLA Rising Advocate of the Year award.
Shirley Wang is the founder and CEO of Plastpro Inc., Chair of The UCLA Foundation board, and also a well-regarded philanthropist.
Shirley Wang’s grandfather fled the Communist Revolution in China, and the lesson he learned has been a guiding light for her family: “He realized that one could lose his or her possessions, home, and even country or family members. But the one thing no one can take away from you is your education.”
The path Wang’s grandmother and mother blazed before her may serve as even more of an inspiration for her ascent to becoming founder and CEO of Plastpro Inc., Chair of The UCLA Foundation board, and also a well-regarded philanthropist.
Federal Relations Executive Director Francisco Carrillo addresses a crowd on federal appropriations talking points during a recent campus event.
Francisco Carrillo was a self-described knucklehead when he attended UCLA, so much so that he didn’t make it through school on his first attempt.
He took his education for granted the first time around, but when given a second chance to make good, he did, and now the “prodigal son” returns as Executive Director of Federal Relations for UCLA with a mission to promote his alma mater at the federal level and to advocate for higher education priorities in Washington, DC.
“My undergrad story is interesting,” Carrillo said with a weary smile. “I didn’t go the normal route. I actually got dismissed from school because my academic performance was suffering. I was very young and naive. But thankfully, I got back in.”
Assemblymember Richard Bloom chats with UCLA Chancellor Gene Block during the 2016 UCLA Day in Downtown.
It’s very possible a person might stumble onto picture proof of a young Richard Bloom earning his chops in civic engagement and activism if he or she were to look through old news archives.
“I grew up in a very turbulent time in the 1960s, and at a school — Fairfax High School — where for whatever reason we were very active for social justice and anti-war activities,” said Bloom, now a state assemblymember for the 50th District. “By the time I graduated, the situation was really kind of burning, and then I shifted to UCLA. There are probably a few photographs with a line of police and me kind of facing off. I’m not in the front line necessarily, but in the group. Not unlike today, there was a good deal of upheaval”
Assemblymember Tom Lackey took a moment to enjoy the Special Olympics during a campus visit in 2015.
“I’m probably the most plain guy you could ever imagine — coming from a small mining town of 3,000,” said 36th District Assemblymember Tom Lackey, reflecting on his own biography that has been anything but.
Growing up in Boron, CA, he was known around town as “Little Tommy Lackey”. His father was a dentist. It was a positive environment for a child, Lackey said, and he was the beneficiary of good influences, something he thinks might be missing in America these days.
Senator Ben Allen shows off a piece of his UCLA memorabilia at his district office. (photo by Jonathan Van Dyke)
For having never actually attended UCLA, California District 26 Senator Ben Allen sure has a lot of deep ties to the institution — something that goes a long way to explaining his desire to be a champion of the campus and higher education as a whole.
“The reason I am a Californian is UCLA,” he said with a chuckle.
His father accepted a job at UCLA sight unseen. He had met Allen’s mother during graduate school at the University of Michigan. Neither had ever been west of the Mississippi River, and they decided it was time for an adventure. A couple years later, the two were married and settled down in Santa Monica. Allen’s birth followed shortly thereafter.
Just outside of the 8th Council District office, 2015 UCLA alumnus Breana Weaver poses with two historical downtown lanterns, installed under the leadership of Mayor Meredith Snyder on Jan. 17, 1920.
Seven months into her professional career as a field deputy for 8th District Los Angeles City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Breana Weaver couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride and accomplishment as she, colleagues and the councilman strapped on gloves and passed out full Thanksgiving turkeys to 1,000 families in need.
The day was a culmination of hard work, and in the weeks before, Weaver had helped to identify those families through school districts, churches and nonprofit organizations.
“We wanted to purposely make sure they were families in need,” she said. “The logistics it takes to execute that — it was a lot of work and stress going into it. But once we got to the day, we had the council member and we were out there with gloves on, giving out the turkeys. Just the gratification you get when you know someone is genuinely appreciative of what you are doing, something as simple as a turkey goes a long way.”
LA Trade Tech President Larry Frank speaks during the MOU signing for the SLATE-Z Promise Zone. (photo by Jonathan Van Dyke)
There will be a little bit of serendipity when Los Angeles Trade Tech President Larry Frank accepts the UCLA Tom Bradley Local Leader of the Year award.
Frank himself admitted, “I always run a million miles away from awards.” But this one will have some personal meaning for him. The trailblazing mayor is actually partially responsible for Frank’s ties with UCLA.
“He wrote me a beautiful letter to get me into UCLA law school, so it is really profound to be receiving an award named after Tom Bradley and through UCLA,” he said.
UCLA advocate and alumnus Xiutleth Santibanez finds refuge in his favorite place on campus: the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden. (photo by Jonathan Van Dyke)
Tucked deep within the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden, Xiutleth Santibanez is home, wrapped in his UCLA oasis, a place that made him comfortable to reach achievements he dreamed about for years, and instill a confidence in life he wishes to pass forward to the next generation.
“It hasn’t changed,” he said as he walked the winding pathways within the garden. “You can still see all the etchings on the trees students made. If anything describes me, it’s the chaos of this garden, but with so much beauty. People will say, ‘There’s just leaves and dead trees.’ But those trees are dormant, and there is something alive here.”
Santibanez always wanted to go to this university. And since graduating from UCLA, he has become an active voice for the university and higher education, traveling as far as Washington D.C. to have his voice heard.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl has plenty of awards and memorabilia in her office, including a piece from UCLA. (photo by Jonathan Van Dyke)
When Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl left Hollywood behind and moved forward toward a new life of public service, she only had one institution in mind for a reboot: UCLA.
No matter what has happened in her life since being accepted to the university in the late 1950s, she has never strayed too far from connecting to the Bruins.
“I only wanted to go to UCLA,” she said. “When I was a child actor, nobody in my family had gone to college. I actually only applied to UCLA, I didn’t apply anywhere else. I was accepted with honors. And for $58 a semester, I got a full four-year, or actually as it turned out, five-year education.”
New UCLA Government and Community Relations Senior Executive Director Richard Benbow III talks at the recent Project SPELL graduation. (photo by Jonathan Van Dyke)
This is not to say that Richard Benbow III did not enjoy the cable television business — as an avid sports fan, he more than relished his roles with DirecTV and Time Warner Cable. However, it’s been hard for him not to notice the change in tenor of the conversations he has out in the public when he mentions his advocacy for UCLA.
“Higher education was something instilled in me early on and it’s something I can get behind,” he said. “When you say UCLA, people light up.”
Still, Benbow, who started his new position in UCLA Government and Community Relations as Senior Executive Director earlier this year, hasn’t minded leaving behind those questions of why someone’s cable box isn’t working right.
Bonnie Faherty and Edward Feldman have been UCLA advocates since the inception of the program. (photo by Jonathan Van Dyke)
Bonnie Faherty and Edward Feldman were a match made in advocacy heaven well before they embarked on a marriage of 30 years.
They have given all they can back to the people, places and institutions that have shaped them —for many years prioritizing UCLA.
So at a political dinner in East Los Angeles during the late 1970s, there was a serendipitous moment that would put two civically passionate people together, and little did they know, for the rest of their lives.
A champion for the environment and higher education, California Sen. Fran Pavley will be finishing up her legislative career this year. (photo by Jonathan Van Dyke)
“Right time, right place,” is a mantra California Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) mentions often when reflecting on her multitude of years in public service, but there is no doubting that a strong conviction and equal passion is what ultimately resulted in a storybook political career.
Years ago, 1982 precisely, Pavley found herself as the first ever Mayor of Agoura Hills. Her passion, especially about the environment and smart urban planning, had guided her to the top of her town.
“Education, participation, government — making a difference was just sort of a natural fit,” she said, reflecting on a political career that is coming to a close this year.
Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson examines an event badge that brings back memories about his California Assembly District Inauguration ceremony that took place at UCLA’s Royce Hall. (photo by Jonathan Van Dyke)
Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson was once that kid in the audience — antsy and uninterested.
Sure, his upbringing included plenty of civic engagement. His father coached youth sports and stayed active in the community. Wesson remembers passing out flyers as a kid in Cleveland, Ohio in support of Charles Stokes, the first African American mayor of a major city.
“My family, historically, we were engaged,” Wesson said. “It was at a time when we had a lot of civic courses and social studies. It was a way to connect with local governments and what have you.”
And yet, it wasn’t until he went to college, and still then, Wesson often found himself in the crowd, looking for an exit strategy. Then one day, his fraternity was hosting special speaker: Northern California’s first black Congress member, Ron Dellums.
U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu holds up a packet relating the UCLA Sustainable LA Grand Challenge.
U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) won’t stop giving back to a country that gave his family so much.
“In my mind, my parents achieved the American Dream,” he said. “They went from being poor to owning a home, and gave my brother and me and amazing education. There are few places in the world where that can happen.”
The congressman earned the rank of Lieutenant Colonel during his career in the Air Force and remains a member of the JAG Corps. He has held office in the Torrance City Council, California State Assembly and Senate, and most recently won an election to replace longtime and beloved Rep. Henry Waxman.
California Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León takes a call at his Silverlake district office from former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
California Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León doesn’t want his personal story of success to be an outlier. He doesn’t want the story of the youngest child to an immigrant mother who was the first and only child in his family to graduate high school and go to college, to be an inspirational calling card. Instead, de León dreams of a future full of people from his community accomplishing what he has — making it the norm.
De León recognizes that in order to make his story obsolete, it will take the hard work of the people of California and the legislation that represents them — a legislation that needs to support the higher education institutions of California.
Vito Costanzo will take home the Advocate of the Year Award at UCLA Day in Downtown.
Vito Costanzo ’94 isn’t really into the whole politics thing.
Yet this Thursday, Oct. 8, he will receive the UCLA Advocate of the Year award for his work lobbying local, state and federal officials on behalf of the university that has been intertwined with his family for years.
“You are explaining common sense principles,” he said. “This is not some sort of special interest group taking money away from another special interest group. This is a university working for the common good. Anyone can explain that to a legislator.
Howard Welinsky shows off some Bruin hardware with memories of a successful career in the movies adorning the background.
When Howard Welinsky ’72, talks, elected officials listen. And if you aren’t hearing from Welinsky at all, well, chances are you already know why you are in the doghouse.
Welinsky has been directly involved with UCLA advocacy since the 1980s.
“At some point I kind of realized that the two issues I cared about were higher education and Israel,” he said. “Over time I learned how to develop political relationships, take advantage of opportunities that existed. Over time, you kind of develop a reputation.”
A political science major while at UCLA, Welinsky said he has always been politically active — literally walking precincts with his mother when he was seven or eight years old, running city council campaigns in Culver City, and becoming involved with the Democratic party and the Jewish Federation.
Los Angeles Fifth District City Councilman Paul Koretz ’79, has felt a call to public service for just about all of his life, and to think others wouldn’t feel the same is rather “mystifying” to him.
The councilman has worn many political hats during his time in the public spotlight — including West Hollywood mayor, state assembly member and his current position as the de facto city steward for Westwood. And during that time, Koretz has never kept UCLA too far from his heart over the years.
“It is a mystery to me that it is even a fight to maintain a better education system for California,” he said.