The late Sal Castro, a renowned teacher, education reformer and social justice activist, was awarded a posthumous honorary doctorate during Commencement 2022 at Cal State LA.
During a four-decade career as a history teacher with the Los Angeles Unified School District, Castro mentored thousands of high school students. He was a champion for young people in the underserved communities of Los Angeles’ Eastside and believed deeply in the power of higher education to transform lives and affect societal change. A Cal State LA alumnus, Castro died in 2013 at the age of 79.
Cal State LA and the California State University Board of Trustees conferred an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters to Castro during an afternoon Commencement ceremony for the Charter College of Education on May 23. Charlotte Lerchenmuller, Castro’s wife, accepted the honor on behalf of her late husband.
“Throughout his career, Mr. Castro urged young people to become what he called ‘change makers.’ In his own influential, but largely underappreciated, career he was a tremendous change maker whose legacy has grown in importance during what are tumultuous times for many students,” President William A. Covino said, moments before presenting Lerchenmuller with a citation and honorary doctoral hood. “He was the embodiment of Cal State LA’s mission of engagement and service for the public good, and of the core values championed by the California State University.”
The Charter College of Education is one of Cal State LA’s academic colleges and awards degrees and credentials to students who go on to become educational leaders throughout the region.
Lerchenmuller thanked Cal State LA for the honor and pointed to similarities between Castro and the graduates earning degrees—they persevered despite life’s challenges and enter the world aiming to make a difference through education.
“I once asked him how we wanted to be remembered,” Lerchenmuller reflected in her remarks to the graduates. “He replied: ‘A teacher who wants our country to live up to its promise of equality, liberty and justice for all.’ This is Sal’s legacy. This is how he wanted to be remembered and this is how he is remembered.”
Castro played a major role in inspiring students who led the historic 1968 protests known as the East L.A. Walkouts. During the protests, thousands of students from Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, Garfield and Belmont high schools near Cal State LA walked out of their classrooms and went on strike to protest systemic inequities in the LAUSD.
The walkouts on the Eastside were part of a larger political and cultural movement of Mexican Americans across the Southwest and served as a catalyst for the Chicano civil rights movement in Los Angeles. The weeklong protests captured the attention of the city and the nation and remain a seminal development in the story of the Chicano movement and U.S. history.
Castro was a teacher at Lincoln High School when students launched their protests and he helped them craft their demands for reforms, which included bilingual and bicultural education, curriculum that acknowledged the many contributions of Mexican Americans, more Mexican American administrators and upgraded library and classroom facilities.
“I was just doing my job,” Castro said in a 2010 interview with Cal State LA’s alumni magazine, noting that “change is through education.”
Rita Ledesma, Cal State LA professor emerita in child and family studies, was one of the many students Castro mentored and supported throughout his career. She delivered tearful remarks during the ceremony, thanking Castro for his unwavering encouragement.
“Thank you for your support, advocacy and devotion to students like me,” Ledesma said. “I would not be here were it not for your fierce love of our community and the strength of your commitment to advance educational opportunity. I stand here as an emerita professor because you stood up for me and students like me.”
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California State University, Los Angeles is the premier comprehensive public university in the heart of Los Angeles. Cal State LA is ranked number one in the United States for the upward mobility of its students. Cal State LA is dedicated to engagement, service, and the public good, offering nationally recognized programs in science, the arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education, and the humanities. Founded in 1947, the University serves more than 26,000 students and has more than 250,000 distinguished alumni.
Cal State LA is home to the critically-acclaimed Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs, Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center, Hydrogen Research and Fueling Facility, Billie Jean King Sports Complex and the TV, Film and Media Center. For more information, visit www.CalStateLA.edu.