Chancellor honored for aid to Dream Act students

Birgeneau waits to receive his award

Chancellor Robert Birgeneau waits to receive his award from Linda Sanchez, of RISE, at Friday’s ceremony.

Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, who was among the state’s most prominent advocates for the California Dream Act, accepted the Centro Legal de La Raza’s “Visionary Leadership Award” last week for his work in securing a $1 million scholarship fund and new campus resources for Dream Act students.

At a 44th-anniversary ceremony for the legal-services group — founded in 1969 by Latino law students at UC Berkeley — the chancellor was joined on Friday by winners of the group’s community-justice and pro-bono champion awards, the Youth Law Academy’s 2013 graduating seniors and friends and supporters, all there to celebrate four-plus decades of “building healthy communities.”

“I myself am a beneficiary of a community that supported my education,” Birgeneau told an attentive audience at Oakland’s Scottish Rite Center, noting how as a youth in Canada he “almost dropped out because of financial difficulties,” but with the help of a Catholic priest went on to become the first in his family to go to college.

“My life experience has made me particularly appreciative of the challenges that students from disadvantaged backgrounds face,” he said. “The help that you all provide these students and their families is critical.”

Birgeneau praised not only the efforts of state Assemblyman Gil Cedillo to enact the California Dream Act, but those of undocumented students themselves.

“There is no group more challenged than our undocumented students,” the chancellor declared. “I was inspired by the vigorous and passionate efforts of the students themselves to fight for their cause. They showed great courage and persistence in spite of enormous odds.”