By Lina Heil / San Diego Mesa College News
For more than 50 years, San Diego Mesa College graduates (Class of 1969) Carlos and Linda LeGerrette have been committed to service, equality, education, and social justice. On Saturday, May 17, at the college’s 50th commencement exercises, the couple was named the recipients of the college’s 2014 Distinguished Alumni Award.
“Mesa College is where we cut our teeth. It was our beginning. Without the great teaching and guidance from our professors I doubt very seriously that we would have the foundation necessary in making the wonderful and challenging decisions that have brought us to where we are today. Mixed that together with our work with our mentors, Cesar Chavez and Sol Price, we are truly a couple totally blessed,” said Linda LeGerrette.
As students at San Diego Mesa College in the mid-1960s, the young couple was inspired primarily by Professor Gracia Molina de Pick, and started a student club that would later become MEChA. Inspired by Molina de Pick, they attended a meeting of the local support group of the Delano grape strike, and their life’s path was sealed.
While still students and as a young married couple, the LeGerrettes joined Cesar Chavez in fighting for the rights of farmworkers. They worked closely with Chavez for several years, and later continued to work on democratic causes, including Jerry Brown’s gubernatorial and presidential campaigns. Receiving a call from merchandising magnate (Price Club) Sol Price, they began working with Price on community and educational projects. Price convinced the LeGerrette’s they should become entrepreneurs and birthed the warehouse delivery program they would sell to Price Club (now Costco) in 1991. Today, the delivery service is still provided by Costco and employs hundreds of workers.
Inspired to engage the next generation in civic participation, in 2001, they founded the Cesar Chavez Service Clubs. The members, called “Chavistas,” learn civic responsibility and leadership founded on values Cesar Chavez promoted The organization has grown from a single club at one school to 38 clubs in 17 schools representing over 1000 Chavistas in San Diego Unified School District.
They have remained involved with Mesa College, and its Chicana/o Studies Department, which nominated them for the award. They have returned as speakers on several occasions. Most recently, at the opening of the Gracia Molina de Pick Glass Gallery in March, where Chavistas of the Wilson Elementary School serenaded de Pick with the traditional “Las Mañanitas” birthday song.
The couple is long-time residents of Golden Hill, and has strong roots in San Diego. Linda, 67, is a graduate of Madison High School, grew up in Shelltown and Clairemont. Her family here goes back five generations. Carlos, 70, graduated from Point Loma High School, and grew up in Logan Heights, federal housing projects (Linda Vista, Frontier – now Sports Arena, Ocean Beach) and Old Town. He is a fourth-generation San Diegan. In March, the LeGerrettes were honored with the U-T San Diego Latino Champions Lifetime Achievement Award.
The Mesa College Distinguished Alumni Award was established in 2011 to recognize former students who have made significant contributions to society, and whose accomplishments, affiliations, and careers have honored the legacy of academic excellence at San Diego Mesa College. Prior honorees include two-time Olympic Gold Medalist Arnie Robinson, filmmaker Raul Celaya, and artist Miya Hannan.
During their comments, the LeGerrettes called for the students to take action and follow their dreams. In his closing remarks, Carlos LeGerrette asked a question of the graduates, “Se puede?” or, can you do it? The students answered with the familiar rallying cry, “¡Sí Se Puede!”… We can do it!