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Commencement 2011: James Berk Receives Honorary Doctorate

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Commencement 2011: James Berk Receives Honorary Doctorate


TRUSTEE ACTENBERG: California State University Northridge alumnus James Berk is an outstanding educator and advocate for the arts, preeminent business executive and unique contributor to the nation ‘s public discourse. Born in Brockton, Massachusetts, Mr. Berk grew up and attended public schools in the San Fernando Valley graduating from California State University Northridge in 1981 with a bachelor’s degree in music. Let’s hear it. Mr. Berk brought his passion for music education to Carson High School, where he reopened its music department. He next transferred to Alexander Hamilton High School and created its acclaimed Academy of Music, the largest comprehensive performing arts magnet in the western United States. He became principal of Alexander Hamilton High School complex in 1990, the youngest principal in the history of Los Angeles Unified School District. In 1992 Mr.Berk started his business career as the founding executive of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Foundation. In 1996 he became CEO of Hard Rock Cafe International, a global entertainment and leisure company. In 1999, CEO of Fairfield Communities Inc, one of America’s largest independent vacation ownership and resort companies and in 2004 he became CEO of Refined Colleges Corporation, an academic for-profit company providing training in high demand career specialties. In 2006. Mr. Berk combined his talents as a teacher and business leader and entertainment executive to become CEO of Participant Media, where he advances its mission to create entertainment that inspires and compels social change. Under Mr. Berk ‘s leadership, Participant Media has offered an extraordinary body of films that have examined such critical matters as global warming, nutrition, education, immigration, mental health, homelessness, civil liberties, and international conflict. Since being recognized in 2007 as a distinguished alumnus of California State University, Northridge, Mr.Berk has become deeply invested in the future of this university. His commitment to higher education and social justice is further exemplified by his breath of service to other valued local and global institutions. In recognition of his professional and civic accomplishments as an educator and business and community leader, the Board of Trustees of the California State University and California State University, Northridge are proud to confer upon James Berk the honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts, PRESIDENT KOESTER: Upon the recommendation of the Board of Trustees of California State University, and by the authority vested in me by that board, I hereby confer upon you, James Berk, an honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts with all of the rights, all of the honors, and most especially, all of the responsibilities pertaining to that degree. Trustee Actenberg, Dean Bucker, all of you here to celebrate our warmest congratulations to you, Dr.Berk. To the crowd, I present to you, Dr. James Berk. (applause) JAMES BERK: Thank you, Dean Bucker, President Koester, Trustee Actenberg, and to the faculty and administration for this honor, and Class of 2011, congratulations! I mean, how cool is all this today? You’re graduating from one of the finest colleges of fine arts in the country. And as today is about you, I’d like to offer four brief observations about your school, your career, your art, and your selves, from the vantage point of someone who once sat where you’re sitting today. First, no matter what you think of your time at Cal State Northridge today, those feelings will change. When I graduated I looked at my time here as somewhat of a means to an end. All I wanted to do was teach music and this school was the best place to learn in Southern California. But as time passed, I realized that my time here was much more than just taking classes to earn a degree. It was a special time when a unique intersection of freedom, friendships, learning, and personal development gave me the academic foundation and the confidence to move forward and pursue my passion. So I started teaching, and I never thought about doing anything else, but my career, as you’ve heard, has taken me many places I would never dream. I would have a difficult time showing up at a career day in any school. So for those of you who think you know exactly what you are going to do for the rest of your life, most likely you will not be doing it. So get ready for some surprises and for those of you who don’t know yet, don’t worry, you don’t need to have it all worked out today. Either way, your professional life will progress nicely, if, if you do something that you are willing to dedicate yourself to completely. It really doesn’t matter what the job is. Just approach whatever you do with passion bordering on obsession. If you do this, I know that you’ll be successful and opportunities that you never thought possible will reveal themselves organically, and if you worry about the pressures of life and money and that they force you to give up your creativity, don’t worry. Your artistic abilities will be put to use no matter what you do. If you move away from the career for which you’ve trained these past years at Northridge, you won’t lose your artistry, no matter what the job. Your creativity differentiates you, because you can think abstractly, conceptually, and innovatively. This is what makes you unique, and it gives you a real competitive advantage. My background in music tipped the scales in my selection to run a restaurant company, so think about it. So no matter what you do, your creative training will be the key to your success. You know, on the way to campus this morning, I was thinking about really how fortunate I am. I happen to have an amazing wife was, who’s my soulmate and two — some of you have met her, I think — and two fantastic daughters who are the center of my life, a wonderful dad, a great sister, and a true best friend, and they’re all with me here today and having them part of my life is what makes makes today and this honor special for me. You know, unfortunately I can’t share today with my mom, and she would have loved to have been here. So my last observation is really more of a piece of advice. No matter how pleased you are today for achieving this milestone, there are people in your life who are more proud and more excited about today than you. Just look around. There are some 1,200 graduates here, but there’s 6,000 moms and dads and brothers and sisters, grandparents, friends, and teachers. So if you’re lucky enough to have them in your life, find a moment, look them in the eye, and really tell them how much they mean to you and then give them a big hug. Their happiness is what you will remember from today. And don’t be shy, because no matter how much you do this, when you look back, it will never feel like it was enough. So falling on my own advice to the Class of 2011, I’m looking at you straight in the eye and I want to say to you that I’m truly honored to be part of your special day. I think what you’ve accomplished is totally awesome, and I wish you a lifetime filled with happiness and success. So congratulations on your graduation and have a wonderful day and an even better life. Thank you

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