The Centennial Celebration: A Preview

UCLA Centennial Celebration Lighting the Way


The turn of the calendar to 2019 heralds a time of celebration, reflection and renewed commitment at UCLA as the university prepares to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the granting of its charter in May 1919.


The “Centennial Celebration” will be a 14-month series of events, programs and initiatives taking place at UCLA, throughout Los Angeles and throughout the world. Centrally created and managed events will be complemented by “Centennialized” programming run by individual campus units and alumni networks.




The celebrations will be kicked off by on May 18, 2019, with three events that will be interwoven to provide a cohesive experience: Alumni Day 2019, TEDxUCLA 2019 and the Centennial Opening Ceremony. Alumni Day will feature tours, discussions, performances and a conversation between UCLA Chancellors past and present. The theme of the TEDxUCLA talks will be “Time” – a fitting topic as UCLA reflects on its first century and accelerates into its second.


Additional plans for the kickoff, which are still being finalized, include interactive components that will allow attendees to contribute to the day and the celebration as a whole. The climax will be an opening ceremony highlighting UCLA’s historic past, illuminating its present and exploring the endlessly bright possibilities of its future. Details have not yet been made public, but it promises to be an unforgettable experience.


The daunting task of planning and executing the celebration of this milestone is overseen by a steering committee comprising a broad spectrum of campus leadership and chaired by Distinguished Research Professor of Law Carole Goldberg, who has spent her entire 46-year academic career at UCLA. What motivated her to take on this role?


“Love for UCLA. I have bottomless gratitude to UCLA for what it has done for me professionally, as well as personally, not to mention the fact that it’s such a beautiful place to spend one’s career. And I thought the Centennial Celebration really would be a unique opportunity to put UCLA center stage in the world of higher education, to afford UCLA the recognition and the visibility that it certainly deserves for all of its achievements”


Andres Cuervo, Centennial Celebration Director of Operations and Strategic Partnerships, has been on the project since August. He spoke recently about the overall philosophy, the overarching theme of the celebration and its supporting tenets, and sensitivities to which the planners are acutely attuned.


“In 2017, university leadership established the steering committee to inform the creation and framework of the centennial theme and values, and to be a reporting and oversight body for what the branding would be and what the Centennial Celebration was going to look like, feel like and be about. University Strategic Communications conducted interviews with the steering committee and 70-80 stakeholders across campus; all that information created the brand, values and theme of the centennial, which is ’Lighting The Way.’ ”



The values and theme of the celebration have been distilled into four key sub-themes - pillars upon which the philosophy and goals of the celebration are built:


Coming of Age


All messaging, communications, programming and activities will reflect on, commemorate and be worthy of the occasion, but also have a forward-looking tie-in to the aspirations, goals, plans and initiatives of the campus.


Opportunity for All


The celebration will reflect UCLA’s role not only as a public university but also as a socio-economic engine that has had a meaningful effect on the lives of people far and wide. Events will be planned with equity and inclusiveness in mind. There will be multiple opportunities for engagement, some planned and managed centrally, others the purview of the units and the alumni networks. Events will take place on campus, across Los Angeles, in Sacramento and worldwide.


Leading the Way


UCLA has been a leader in many areas – technology, medicine, athletics, the arts, etc. – and one of the challenges of the celebration is to showcase these accomplishments in a way that does not seem overly self-congratulatory. The goal is to use UCLA’s century of achievement to inspire and motivate Bruins past, present and future.


Only Here


One of the key factors in UCLA’s ascension to global importance is its connection with a city that has grown as it has. The entertainment industry and the aerospace industry were in its backyard. Resources were available to support research in medicine and technology, and more. The climate and location was conducive to the development of powerhouses across the collegiate sports spectrum and to drawing some of the most sought-after faculty and students. All of these things put UCLA in a unique position to emerge as a world leader. And, as it heads into its second century, being situated geographically at the crossroads of Asia and Latin America provides more opportunity for reflecting and shaping culture in the country and the world.


In Goldberg’s tenure as vice chancellor, academic personnel, her work touched on all of these themes. “What I said to many of the folks that we tried to attract to the UCLA faculty – or to retain at UCLA against offers from other institutions – is that this is a unique place where you can be pursuing research at the highest levels and simultaneously participate in providing an engine of opportunity for a wide, diverse swath of the public. And there aren’t a lot of institutions of higher education that are operating at that high a level in their research and, at the same time, supplying opportunity to so many people for whom higher education is new in their community or in their family. And I think that makes the people we’re trying to draw to UCLA feel especially good about being a part of this community.”


Cuervo summed up, “Those four pillars really set the broad strokes for the direction, the feeling and values that we want everything to embody.” When asked about the danger of the celebration appearing too self-aggrandizing, Cuervo referred to the tenets established by campus leadership. “It goes back to the values we set out. We don’t want this to be a shiny, sparkly commemoration. The events for the year are open to everybody; they are grounded in community, grounded in Los Angeles and in the cities that have been a part of UCLA’s story for a long time.”


At a recent meeting of the steering committee, four initiatives – selected from over 40 applicants representing near 100 units across campus - were introduced as the most outstanding embodiments of the celebration’s tenets. These initiatives will help tell UCLA’s story both on campus and beyond.


The selected initiatives are:


Committee members emphasized the dual purpose of these initiatives: they should form part of a time-capsule (“we want people 100 years from now to know what we thought was important,” commented one committee member) and also act as material that can continue to be used to educate, motivate and inspire.



April 1 will see the launch of the overarching website that will tell the stories of the centennial, have a timeline of UCLA’s 100 years, a calendar of programming activities throughout the year, and all the news and announcements related to the celebration.


Alumni networks will have access to tools and resources through their Alumni Affairs partners. The celebration provides, in Cuervo’s words, “a special opportunity for alumni to deepen their connection with other Bruins and help amplify the impact and stories of UCLA as advocates and ambassadors. ”If there were ever a time to return to UCLA for a visit, May 18, 2019, is it.” The discount – 15% off the best available rate – being offered by the spectacular UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center for celebration attendees is all the more reason to participate in this historic moment.


Alumni will have a unique perspective from which to participate in the festivities, said Goldberg. “UCLA’s extraordinary diversity of creativity and excellence in so many ways is going to be showcased on that day. We want alumni to experience this and also to share with us their experiences and stories about UCLA, so it’s both an opportunity for them to celebrate the success of their alma mater and to contribute to its ongoing narrative.”


Cuervo adds, “This moment is only going to happen once – it’s a once-in-a-lifetime celebration. And everyone is a part of it. This includes every Bruin and anyone who has been impacted by the university’s breakthroughs, our health system, the research and teaching of our faculty, and the many other ways UCLA contributes to the welfare of the world.”