Juan Felipe Herrera, a social activist and the first Mexican-American to hold the position of United States Poet Laureate, will be the featured speaker at Oregon State University’s 147th Commencement on June 11.
The son of migrant farmers in California, Herrera is the author of 30 books, including collections of poetry, prose, short stories, young adult novels and children’s books. A leader in the Chicano civil rights movement and an activist for migrant and indigenous communities and at-risk youth, Herrera is also a performance artist whose work has crossed genres into opera and dance theatre.
“We’re honored to have an inspirational writer, artist and social leader of the stature of Juan Felipe Herrera to speak to our 2016 graduates,” says Oregon State President Ed Ray. “His life’s work is one of recognizing social problems, breaking down boundaries and bridging cultural divides, both through art and actions. He reminds us of the challenges we face as a society, of the richness and diversity of our history, and he inspires us to confront habits and impediments to fundamental human decency that are found in higher education and throughout our society.”
Herrera has written extensively about topics related to children, such as the tragedy of 9/11 through the eyes of a young Puerto Rican girl. He developed an anti-bullying poetry project while serving as California’s poet laureate from 2012-14. And in his nonfiction work, “Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes,” Herrera showcased 20 men and women who have made outstanding contributions to arts, politics, science, humanitarianism and athletics.
Herrera earned a bachelor of arts from UCLA, a master of arts from Stanford University and a master of fine arts from the University of Iowa. He has received fellowships and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the California Arts Council, the University of California, Berkeley, the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference, the Stanford Chicano Fellows Program and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.