Las Vegas, NM – Be engaged in your communities, labor activist Dolores Huerta told the classes of 2020 and 2021 during a virtual commencement ceremony May 15.
“We never know what our destiny holds for us,” Huerta told the 1,610 Highlands graduates participating in the virtual ceremony. “The one thing we do know for sure is you have received a quality education here at Highlands University, and you have to take all of your knowledge and experience that you’ve earned and take it out into the world.”
This year’s commencement ceremony recognized the classes of 2020 and 2021. In the combined classes, 780 received their graduate degrees and 830 received their undergraduate degrees.
“The world needs you at this point in time,” said Huerta, who at 91, is still active advocating for social justice.”
Huerta was born April 10, 1930, in the mining town of Dawson, New Mexico. She forged her place in American labor history in 1960 when she and Chavez joined forces to establish the Agricultural Workers Association, which became the United Farm Workers union in 1962.
“We know that we are in a very critical moment right now in the United States of America,” Huerta said. “There are so many issues and challenges that have been on us for so many years. You might say 400 years, 500 years.”
In 2002, she founded the Dolores Huerta Foundation for Community Organizing and remains as its president. The foundation connects community-based organizations to state and national movements to register and educate voters; advocates for education reform; brings about infrastructure improvements in low-income communities; advocates for greater equality for the LGBT community; and creates strong leadership development.
“We need to change our society so it can be a more equitable society, so we don’t have the economic inequalities, the racial inequalities and gender inequalities.” Huerta said. “Everything you learned at the university is going to prepare you for this moment.”
During the commencement ceremony, Huerta received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Highlands.
“The honorary doctorate recognizes that Dolores Huerta has contributed significantly to the humanitarian fabric of the United States and has had impact on lives, communities, organizations and policy,” said Eric Romero, a Highlands University languages and culture professor, helped lead the effort to have Huerta speak at Highlands’ commencement. “Dolores Huerta has had a tremendous impact in many areas including labor organization, voter advocacy, women’s rights, LGBTQ inclusion and more. Her presentations and discourse are compelling messages for empowerment and alliance building. I have always felt motivated by her compassion and commitment to humanistic causes.”
Romero said that while Huerta is recognized internationally for her unwavering commitment to social issues, as a native daughter of New Mexico and with relatives in the Las Vegas area, Huerta directly impacted the community and Highlands University.
“Dolores Huerta was one of the champions of the Chicana/o movement for her work with Cesar Chavez and was influential in the civil rights activism that took place on the Highlands University campus. I anticipate that her presentation to our graduates will motivate them to pursue the highest levels of dedication and achievement,” Romero said.