A Tale of Two Pasadena City College Commencement Speakers Ends in Role Reversal

Thursday, May 15, 2014
Dustin Lance Black (photo: Matt Sayles, Associated Press)

When last observed on April 30, Pasadena City College (PCC) was in a bind.

The Oscar-winning screenwriter and alumnus Dustin Lance Black had been disinvited to give the school's commencement address this month over scandalous sexual images of him posted to the Internet. And his replacement, Pasadena Department of Public Health Director Dr. Eric Walsh, had just as abruptly backed out over discovery of the Seventh Day Adventist pastor's controversial sermons, also viewable on the Internet.  

But in short order, Black accepted a re-invitation from the college and the city suspended Walsh with pay pending a review of his online remarks. Walsh didn't wait for the review and accepted a job running a six-county district in the Georgia Public Health Department, according to the Pasadena Star-News. His hiring is said to be contingent upon further study of his background.

That shouldn't take a long time. Googling Dr. Walsh turns up loads of speeches by the pastor to youth groups and others castigating Disney's “dark empire”, comic books, Satanist Islam and other religions, popular culture, believers in evolution, defenders of women's rights and gays. Actually, you can get that much from a single speech, but there is lots more out there.   

Dr. Walsh is not without credentials. He is a graduate of Oakwood University, the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine and Loma Linda University School of Public Health.

The 39-year-old Black, who won his Oscar for writing the movie Milk, about the openly gay San Francisco councilman who was assassinated in 1978, is gay. He delivered his 30-minute commencement address last Friday and a good part of it was about inclusion and his own difficult personal journey.

Los Angeles Times reporter Robin Abcarian thought she detected some squirming in the seats around her the more personal Black's story became. But the gist of it was simply don't be afraid to live your life and tell your story, and beware of “of one kind of person—the kind who leads with fear and hesitancy.”

That may have been an oblique reference to the man who almost took his place on the dais. But another comment almost certainly was a gentle poke at the college administration that rejected him in a heartbeat, although he had previously sued and won over the theft and release of the offending video. Black said, “I say if you measure the weight of an honor by the amount of work it takes to actually get there, well, this might damn well be the biggest honor of my entire life.”

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Pasadena Health Director Dr. Eric Walsh Hired by Georgia Public Health Department (by Lauren Gold, Pasadena Star-News)

Pasadena Public Health Director Resigns After Controversial Sermons (by Frank Shyong, Los Angeles Times)

Pasadena City College Can't Find a Commencement Speaker Who Doesn't Set Off Alarm Bells (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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