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Cal Poly Announces Keynote Speakers for Spring Commencement Ceremonies June 11 and 12

Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and educator Margaret Fortune will address the Class of 2016 graduates.

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Former Secretary of Defense and Central Coast Congressman Leon Panetta, and Margaret Fortune, the leader of a network of charter schools in Northern and Southern California helping young people from disadvantaged families attend college, will deliver keynote addresses at three spring 2016 commencement ceremonies June 11 and 12 at Cal Poly.

Panetta will address the colleges of Engineering and Architecture & Environmental Design at 9 a.m. and the colleges of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences and Science & Mathematics at 4 p.m. June 11. Fortune will address the College of Liberal Arts and Orfalea College of Business at 9 a.m. June 12. All ceremonies will take place in Alex G. Spanos Stadium on campus.

Panetta’s more than 60-year career in public service has taken him far from the Carmel Valley walnut ranch where he grew up and continues to call home. In 1977, he began the first of eight terms in the House of Representatives representing a district that went from Santa Cruz to Santa Maria and held constituent hours on a regular basis in San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay, Atascadero and Paso Robles. He was elected to a ninth term but resigned to head the Office of Management and Budget in 1993.

During his time in Congress, Panetta focused on budget issues, agricultural, education and environmental issues — particularly preventing oil drilling off the California coast. He is remembered for his legislation that nearly a quarter century ago established the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which protects the coastline from San Francisco to Cambria.

Panetta was named President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff (1994-1996) and completed five years of service in the Obama administration. As President Barack Obama’s CIA director (2009-11), Panetta ran the operation that in 2011 brought Osama bin Laden to justice and, as secretary of defense (2011-13) led the effort to develop a new defense strategy, conduct critical counter terrorism operations, strengthen U.S. alliances and opened up opportunities for everyone to serve in the military.

In 1997, Panetta joined with his wife, Sylvia, to establish and co-direct The Panetta Institute for Public Policy, based at CSU Monterey Bay. The nonpartisan, not-for-profit study center seeks to attract thoughtful men and women to lives of public service and prepare them for the policy challenges of the future. Each year, an outstanding Cal Poly student gets an opportunity with the Panetta Institute Congressional Internship Program, which pairs them with members of Congress for a three-month educational experience in the nation’s capital. Over the years, 15 Cal Poly students have participated.


Fortune was recently named a trustee emerita after eight years as a trustee for the 23-campus California State University system. She sits on the California Charter Schools Association Board of Directors. The graduate of UC Berkeley and Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government has served as an education advisor to two California governors — Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Fortune heads Fortune School and launched a network of tuition-free, college preparatory, public charter schools in Sacramento and San Bernardino counties. The K-12 school system focuses on closing the African-American achievement gap and preparing youngsters for college — starting while they are still in kindergarten. The network includes K-8 and 6-8 campuses with enrollment of more than 1,500 students. She also operates a graduate school of education, credentialing teachers and school administrators with a focus on charter school leadership called Fortune School of Education.

Fortune has found a partner in Cal Poly. Since 2014, Fortune School students experience hands-on science in Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing Lab. In 2017, Fortune will open a Middle College High School, in partnership with Cal Poly and Cosumnes River College, located in Sacramento. Focused on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math), students will earn a high school diploma and an associate of arts degree in just four years. The school will be the first of its kind in the state capital and is among Cal Poly’s diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Cal Poly will confer degrees on more than 4,200 graduates June 11 and 12. For more information about spring commencement, visit

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