Social justice advocate Antonia Hernández receives honorary doctorate at Cal State LA Commencement

May 8, 2019

By Jillian Beck | Cal State LA News Service

Antonia Hernández, a social justice champion, civil rights attorney and philanthropist, received an honorary doctorate during the 2019 Commencement at Cal State LA.

Hernández is the president and chief executive officer of the California Community Foundation, one of Southern California’s most active and largest philanthropic organizations. She previously served as president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), a national civil rights organization.

The California Community Foundation has served individuals, families and organizations in Los Angeles for more than a century. During Hernández’s tenure, the foundation has focused on health, housing, education and programs benefitting immigrants.

Cal State LA and the California State University Board of Trustees conferred an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters to Hernández during an afternoon Commencement ceremony for the College of Arts and Letters on May 20. She also delivered the keynote address.

“Antonia Hernández is a distinguished civil rights attorney, immigration advocate and community and philanthropic leader. For more than four decades, she has devoted her professional life to working on behalf of underserved communities in Los Angeles and across the state and the nation,” President William A. Covino said, moments before presenting Hernández with an honorary doctoral hood. “Ms. Hernández embodies California State University, Los Angeles’ mission of engagement, service, and the public good, going back to the earliest days of her storied career.”

Delivering an inspiring address, Hernández told graduates of her connection to Cal State LA and the communities it serves, recounting memories of growing up nearby and five of her siblings attending Cal State LA. “I come from this 'hood,” Hernández said. “I grew up just over the hill in the heart of East L.A. I am a local girl, an East Los girl.”

Hernández congratulated the graduates and their families for the hard work that brought them here today. She urged the graduates to use the skills and values they learned at Cal State LA to go out and help make the nation and the world a better place.

“America is at an important juncture in its history. Many perceive us as a deeply divided nation, alienated and becoming more estranged from the world,” Hernández said. “It is your responsibility to show this nation and the world that that's not the case.”

Hernández continued, “Whether we were born American, became American or are an American in the making, embrace American ideals and values.”

“The concept of America means more than living in an organized society. It means that we are a tolerant people, hardworking, innovative, entrepreneurial, charitable and, above all, hold a deep commitment to democracy and equality,”  Hernández added. “To be an American is more than a birthright. To be an American is to accept a common set of values and to believe in an ideal of inclusiveness and common purpose.”

She began her legal career as a staff attorney with the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice. She also served as counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary before joining MALDEF in 1981 as regional counsel in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1968, MALDEF is a nonprofit litigation and advocacy organization committed to protecting and defending the rights of Latinos living in the United States and the constitutional rights of all Americans.

Hernández is a member of the State Bar of California, United States Supreme Court, District of Columbia Bar, American Bar Association and the Mexican American Bar Association of Los Angeles. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Law Institute.

She earned a Bachelor of Arts in History from UCLA in 1970 and a Juris Doctor at the UCLA School of Law in 1974.

Photo: Antonia Hernández accepts the honorary doctorate from President William A. Covino. (Credit: J. Emilio Flores/Cal State LA)

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California State University, Los Angeles is the premier comprehensive public university in the heart of Los Angeles. Cal State LA is ranked number one in the United States for the upward mobility of its students. Cal State LA is dedicated to engagement, service, and the public good, offering nationally recognized programs in science, the arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education, and the humanities. Founded in 1947, the University serves more than 28,000 students and has more than 245,000 distinguished alumni.

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