Visionary changemaker to speak at Commencement

By Keely Savoie

Dolores Huerta, lifelong social justice organizer and activist, will deliver the Commencement address at Mount Holyoke College on Sunday, May 21, at 10:30 a.m. in the Gettell Amphitheater. Huerta will also receive an honorary doctor of humane letters at the ceremony.

With labor leader César Chavez, Huerta co-founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962, the precursor to United Farm Workers (UFW). Her early accomplishments on behalf of farm laborers changed the face of labor relations in the United States for decades to come: She helped secure Aid for Dependent Families and disability insurance for California farm workers. She also was instrumental in the enactment of the 1975 Agricultural Labor Relations Act that allowed California farmworkers the right to collectively organize and bargain for better wages and working conditions.

“Dolores Huerta embodies the sort of activist, organizer and person that so many Mount Holyoke students aspire to be,” said Juliet Martone, the 2017 class board president. “Her work on behalf of the labor movement, the civil rights movement and the LGBTQ movement is deeply resonant with our community. I think she will embolden us to continue fighting for equality and justice as we transition into the real world.”

As the UFW’s principal legislative advocate, Huerta became one of the organization’s most visible spokespersons. Moments before he was fatally shot in Los Angeles, Robert F. Kennedy acknowledged her help in winning the 1968 California Democratic presidential primary . Throughout the years she has helped to elect numerous candidates, including President Bill Clinton, Congressman Ron Dellums, Governor Jerry Brown, U.S. Representative Hilda Solis and U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton.

Huerta’s work as an advocate and activist became the work of a feminist as she dismantled the gender barriers she frequently encountered. After meeting Gloria Steinem in the mid 1960s, Huerta began to incorporate feminist themes into her advocacy work.

She has traveled the country extensively on behalf of the Feminist Majority’s Feminization Of Power campaign, encouraging Latinas to run for office.

Now, at age 86, Huerta continues her work in developing leaders and advocating for working poor, women and children. As president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, she continues to engage in the work of organizing communities to advocate for legislation aimed at equality and civil rights.

Huerta has received numerous awards for her work, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which was given to her by President Obama in 2012 and the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award. She was given Smithsonian Institute’s highest award, the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal, for those who have made “distinguished contributions to the advancement” of its interests.

In addition to Huerta, this year’s honorary degree recipients will be filmmaker Joan Biren ’66, whose work has brought unprecedented visibility to lesbian lives; and Kathryn Finney, technology entrepreneur, social media visionary, investor, writer and television correspondent. 

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