Cecilia Muñoz, Director in the White House, is 2011 Commencement Speaker

May 10, 2011

TACOMA, Wash. – Cecilia Muñoz, a longtime advocate for civil rights whose candid determination and years of civic engagement earned her a seat in the White House, will deliver the Class of 2011 Commencement address at University of Puget Sound.

Muñoz, deputy assistant to President Obama and White House director of intergovernmental affairs since January 2009, also will be presented with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. This honor is bestowed by the university in recognition of her more than two decades of outstanding work on issues of civil rights, education, health, and housing.

One of the highest ranking Hispanic officials in the White House, Muñoz oversees the relationships between the Obama administration and state, local, territorial, and tribal governments. The position involves her in policy debates around key issues such as health care and immigration reform.

“I believe a little outrage can take you a long way,” Muñoz said in a 2005 broadcast for National Public Radio’s This I Believe, four years before her White House appointment. Then a prominent civil rights advocate, Muñoz described her own personal moment of outrage at the age of 17, and how it propelled her into the civil rights movement. In the years following she earned a reputation for compassion and toughness among her supporters and, in time, became a target of attacks from media commentators opposed to immigration reform.

In 2000 she was awarded a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” in recognition of her work. She has appeared on Good Morning America, PBS News Hour With Jim Lehrer, and National Public Radio. 

Muñoz was selected as Commencement speaker from an impressive list of nominees by a committee composed of faculty, students, alumni, and trustees. The committee affirmed her as someone whose life speaks to the university’s mission of developing students’ capacities for critical analysis, aesthetic appreciation, sound judgment, and apt expression to sustain a lifetime of intellectual curiosity, active inquiry, and reasoned independence.

“Cecilia Muñoz’s lifetime of work on critical social issues, her command of the contentious issue of immigration policy today, and her current position in the White House clearly make her someone who will be an inspiration to our new graduates as they set out to become engaged citizens in a pluralistic world,” said President Ronald R. Thomas. “I understand well why she was nominated and selected.”

A native of Detroit and the daughter of Bolivian immigrants, Muñoz graduated from University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, in 1984, and attended University of California, Berkeley, where she obtained a master’s degree in Latin American studies.

In 1988 she became a senior immigration policy analyst at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the nation’s largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organization. She worked with NCLR for more than 20 years, ultimately serving as senior vice president of research, advocacy, and legislation. In 2007 Muñoz served as the Towsley Foundation Policymaker in Residence at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at University of Michigan. She is the former chair of the board of the Center for Community Change and has served on the U.S. Programs Board of the Open Society Institute and the board of directors of both The Atlantic Philanthropies and National Immigration Forum.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, she was one of Obama’s top advisers on immigration issues, and in January 2009, she was appointed director of intergovernmental affairs.

In the 2005 NPR broadcast, Muñoz also revealed another side of herself. The anger that was so motivating, she said, had a way of “hollowing out your insides.” She went on, “In my first job, if we helped 50 immigrant families in a day, the faces of the five who didn’t qualify haunted my dreams at night.” But in time, she added, more powerful things “like compassion, faith, family, music, the goodness of people around me,” filled this void and tempered her outrage with “a deep sense of gratitude that I have the privilege of doing my small part to make things better.”

The Puget Sound graduation ceremony will be held from 2 to 4:30 p.m., Sunday, May 15, at Baker Stadium on campus. Family and friends of graduates, the media, and the general public are all welcome to attend.

Press-quality photos of Cecilia Muñoz can be downloaded from: www.pugetsound.edu/pressphotos

For more on Commencement visit: www.pugetsound.edu/commencement

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