At first his voice seemed as if it was coming from a lonely place in a wilderness, far from the festivities of the day.
But as guest speaker Jeff Bleich addressed the PHS Class of 2022, their families, and the larger Piedmont community during the graduation ceremony Thursday at Witter Field, his message, delivered in the smooth cadences of a diplomat, brought an attentive stillness to the audience.
It was clear to see there was something deeply resonant in his words.
Piedmonters may know Jeff as a big-time San Francisco law firm partner. They might also be aware of his parallel distinguished political career, serving as Special Assistant to President Obama, and later as U.S. Ambassador to Australia, among other roles.
As he spoke Thursday, Jeff wove a tale that wound in and out of his own career, finally landing on something that, although unsaid until that moment, was unquestionably casting a shadow that loomed in the background of that hot, cloudless day.
What happens when we put careerism above social good? What happens when governance becomes about holding power and drawing lines between us? What happens to us when this kind of unraveling goes unchallenged? What did Buffalo and Uvalde mean?
It was a message focused on rejuvenating an idealism and pragmatism of selflessness and hope, and it couldn’t have been a better note to place in the eager hands of the Class of 2022 as they go out to reshape a flawed world. Jeff reminded us all that inspiration is still alive and kicking.
David E. Thigpen is the creator and director of UC Berkeley’s undergraduate journalism program, an Exedra advisor, and the proud parent of a PHS class of 2022 graduate.