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A Message from Chancellor Kang About Commencement

May 5, 2009

Dear Campus Community:

A recent story in the Merced Sun-Star called attention to the
growing cost of our upcoming Commencement ceremony, noting that the
price tag has increased significantly since the First Lady
confirmed her attendance. The Associated Press, the Chronicle of
Higher Education and other publications have since picked up the
story, triggering a spate of critical comments in the blogosphere
based largely on misinformation.

I am writing because I think it is important to assure
everyone that I have full confidence in what we are doing and would
like to offer a few points of perspective.

The First Lady’s decision to speak at our Commencement is an
incredible boon to our young campus, to the University of
California and to the people of the San Joaquin Valley
. Her
participation reinforces everything we have stood for and tried to
teach our students since we opened our doors. The student-led
initiative that secured her participation makes her decision to
attend even more compelling. This priceless, once-in-a-lifetime
opportunity perfectly captures what UC Merced, our students and our
state’s future are all about.

It is unreasonable to expect the incremental cost of such a
momentous event to be only marginally greater than previous
Demand for Commencement tickets shot through the
roof the minute it was announced that Mrs. Obama would attend, in
particular by our students and their families. We had to rethink
everything on a much larger scale. Security, audio and visual
transmission, traffic control, shuttle service, food supplies,
medical preparedness and every other aspect of planning had to be
increased to a scale well beyond anything we had anticipated. These
are neither extravagant nor optional expenses.

We strongly believe the First Lady’s presence is a triumph for
the entire community, one that should be shared as much as
possible, despite the physical constraints imposed by our small
In order to ensure that every attendee has a pleasurable
viewing experience - whether sitting in the front row or standing
in back - we must have high-quality audio/visual reproduction. A
lot of technical work is required to guarantee that the images and
sound broadcast on large screens and through speakers on campus are
as clear and crisp as possible. It just so happens that our
investment in the quality of the experience for those present will
also benefit the general public by providing a sharp broadcast for
the city, media outlets and Webcasts worldwide to tap into.

We are making every attempt to raise additional funds to help
defray these added costs.
Several supporters have stepped up,
and we will continue to seek other funding sources. We do believe,
however, it is inappropriate to turn the First Lady’s presence into
a marketing event.

In sum, I believe there’s a reason so many media outlets,
from the Washington Post , the Los Angeles Times and the New York
Times to campus newspapers at our sister institutions, are hailing
Mrs. Obama’s visit as an incredible coup for our young campus and a
victory for the beleaguered San Joaquin Valley. This is a moment to
be savored and shared. We are not about to deny the community that
welcomed us here, the state’s political leadership, the family and
friends of our amazing students or our faculty and staff the right
to witness history. UC Merced will manage this event in a way that
reflects its profound importance to our graduates, the university,
the UC system, the community and all of our constituents for many,
many years to come.

Thank you for your part in helping make this event possible.


Steve Kang