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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

This has been one of those days where I feel lucky to spend many of my hours on campus at UCLA.

The first thing I saw when I came out of the parking garage was a stall selling bouquets of flowers. No frazzled students rushing to class, looking pressured. Worried.

Today everything felt lighter. Even sunny, despite the insistent June gloom hanging low on the hills. That's because today is graduation day.

Or, more specifically, the busiest day of commencement ceremonies in a festive weekend that turns Westwood -- just for a time -- into the happiest place in the city. Or at least the most relieved.

Yesterday the newly diploma-ed Ph.D's took part in a hooding ceremony, the traditional investiture that acknowledges their years of work. Or in some cases, decades of academics and research.

The new Ph.D's include Chaohua Wang, a hero of the Tiananmen Square uprising two decades ago.

Wang was a 36-year-old grad student in literature who refused to leave Tiananmen Square for ten days except for brief negotiations with Chinese officials -- and an overnight stay in the hospital after she collapsed from hunger.

She was one of only two women targeted on Beijing's roll of most wanted students after the protest. She escaped to the U.S. and has been studying for her doctorate in Asian languages and cultures.

Wang brought her 83-year-old mother over from England for the ultimate step in her American education.

I enjoyed seeing new graduates stroll on Bruin Walk with their parents and spouses and children, for a few hours at least less concerned about the recession and its awful job market.

This afternoon, 4,100 no-longer-under graduates of the College of Letters and Science will walk in front of their families in Pauley Pavilion.

They'll hear addresses from a student leader who escaped the battlefields in Afghanistan as a young child. They'll also hear from an icon of the farmworker movement in California, Dolores Huerta.

And from Brad Delson, the lead guitarist of Linkin Park. He was selected more because he's a UCLA graduate who, with the band, has done good philanthropic works around the world. And with his wife, has given back to the university and set up a scholarship for kids from Huntington Park, one of LA's more impoverished former suburbs.

Delson's the replacement for actor James Franco, who was invited to give the keynote speech based on his impressive academic work at UCLA as well as his filmography.

Franco accepted months ago, then sent word last week that he couldn't make it after all. His people blamed a scheduling conflict with his latest film, but the media coverage all pointed to a protest on Facebook by students who thought Franco was too young and inexperienced in the world to give them their sendoff into the uncertain future.

Smaller commencement exercises today and this weekend will hear from Oliver Stone, Arianna Huffington, Catherine Opie and other accomplished speakers.

Tears will be shed, mortarboards tossed.

When it's all over, the campus will revert to its summer season, my favorite time.

Research goes on in the labs, but UCLA in summer feels almost like a resort. Tourists stop in from around the world. They stroll in the sculpture garden and buy bags full of Bruin wear.

Campers take over the dorms and the lunch spots.

You also see the next generation of students, still just teenagers, their eyes filled with anticipation as they visit with their parents and wonder, silently, if they can do this.

Graduation day is proof that they can, and do.

Traffic will be a little extra congested around Westwood this afternoon, but I for one will be more patient and philosophic. It's worth it.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.


Banner image: UCLA commencement

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