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Best-selling and Newbery Medal-winning author Matt de la Peña, a Pacific alumnus, will be the 2019 Commencement speaker

Best-selling and Newbery Medal-winning author Matt de la Peña, a Pacific alumnus, will be the 2019 Commencement speaker

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Pacific News

Best-selling author and alumnus Matt de la Peña to be 2019 Commencement speaker

Mar 14, 2019

University of the Pacific announced today that The New York Times best-selling and Newbery Medal-winning author Matt de la Peña, a Pacific alumnus, will be the featured speaker at the university's main graduation ceremony on May 11 at the Alex G. Spanos Center in Stockton.

"I am honored by the invitation to speak at commencement," said de la Peña, who graduated Pacific with a bachelor of arts degree in English while on a basketball scholarship. "My time at University of the Pacific certainly changed my life and has been invaluable. I wouldn't be where I am without it. I entered as a basketball player, but I left as a scholar and a writer."

Since turning his tassel in 1996, life has been a remarkable journey for the Southern California native. De la Peña earned a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from San Diego State University and authored several young adult novels and picture books. His book "Miguel and the Grand Harmony" was released by Disney in both English and Spanish in October 2017. The book features a beautiful original story based on the characters of the Disney/Pixar film "Coco," as well as vibrant stylized artwork by Ana Ramirez.

Pacific President Pamela A. Eibeck said, "Matt has been a champion of diversity in children's literature through his award-winning work and as a prolific speaker. His success is inspirational to our students and our community, and we are honored to have him be part of this remarkable celebration."

De la Peña, who was born in National City, said he never considered becoming a professional writer. Although he had notebooks full of spoken-word poetry, he never showed them to anyone. But during his years as a student at Pacific, life changed.

"At University of the Pacific, I discovered a love for literature and nurtured that into something that would become a huge part of my life," he said. "It didn't take long for me to realize the incredible opportunity I had in front of me."

In an essay for National Public Radio's "Code Switch," de la Peña wrote about the day when a former Pacific professor stopped him on campus and gave him a copy of the book "The Color Purple."

"My world changed the day professor Heather Mayne sought me out in the middle of campus during my sophomore year in college. I took the book with me on our next basketball road trip to New Mexico State," he wrote. "I needed to find out why she had connected me to this one specific book."

Finishing the book in just four days, de la Peña will forever remember the take-away that his professor shared with him. "When I went and talked to her the following week, she explained, 'Even in the harshest and ugliest of circumstances, there's still hope."'

De la Peña has held on to that hope throughout his career and shares that message and his gift of storytelling at high schools and colleges throughout the country.

Career Highlights:

  • De la Peña's debut novel "Ball Don't Lie" was published in 2005. In 2008, the book was made into a major motion picture starring Ludacris, Nick Cannon, Emelie de Ravin, Grayson Boucher and Rosanna Arquette. "Ball Don't Lie" was named an ALA-YALSA Best Book for Young Adults and an ALA-YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers.
  • In 2012, his novel "Mexican WhiteBoy" was banned from Tucson, Arizona, schools as a result of a state law that eliminated Mexican-American studies courses. Scheduled to speak to a group of high school students in Tucson shortly after the elimination, de la Peña donated his speaking fee to buy copies of the book to give to the students. "I want to give back what was taken away," he told Samantha Neville, a reporter for the school newspaper, The Cactus Chronicle. The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) honored de la Peña with the NCTE National Intellectual Freedom Award in 2016, given for his efforts to fight censorship through both his words and his actions in Tucson.
  • His 2015 book, "Last Stop on Market Street," which was ranked No. 1 on The New York Times Bestsellers list, won the 2016 Newbery Medal, the top U.S. prize in children's literature. De la Peña is the first Hispanic author to be awarded the Newbery Medal.
  • In 2018, his fourth picture book, "Love," illustrated by Loren Long, and fifth picture book, "Carmela Full of Wishes," illustrated by Christian Robinson, were released by Penguin.

Media contact:
Keith Michaud | 209.946.3275 (office) | 209.470.3206 (cell) | kmichaud@pacific.edu

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