RICHMOND -- A south Richmond native who went on to glittering legal and academic success and global travels returned to his boyhood church to impart to young students some advice for their future.
Daniel Bernstine, the son of Louisiana sharecroppers who settled in Richmond after World War II, worked at the U.S. Department of Labor and served as president of Portland State University. On Sunday, he was the featured speaker at Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church's "Graduates' Day" services, honoring church members who graduated from high schools, trade schools and colleges this year.
"The world is going to be a very different place in the future than anything you or I can envision," Bernstine said. "You have to continue to prepare yourself through education.... My challenge to you is to maximize the opportunities you have before you."
Bernstine paraphrased Franklin D. Roosevelt when he promised his remarks would adhere to the adage, "Be sincere, be brief and be seated." But in about 20 minutes, Bernstine touched on themes including globalization, immigration, education, community standards and social challenges in the African-American community.
"I am afraid sometimes, afraid that African-Americans are falling for the okeydoke. When I see more African-Americans still on probation, parole and incarcerated than in college, we're going for the okeydoke."
Bernstine, 65, described growing up in a small house "on the other side of the tracks," at 45th Street and Carlson Boulevard. His father was a janitor with a fourth-grade education and his mother a homemaker caring for four children.
But what they lacked in formal schooling was balanced by a fierce sense of pride, a faith in education and a community of other adults who all helped to keep each other's kids in line. He recalled a childhood of playing outdoors and later working summers at the Port Chicago with his uncle, one of several male mentor figures.
"The word that comes to mind when I think about the proverbial village is 'expectations,'" Bernstine said. "My parents didn't know exactly what it meant to go to college, but the expectation was that their children would go."
Bernstine went to El Cerrito High and then to UC Berkeley. From there, he went to Northwestern University law school. He was a professor at Howard University in the late 1970s, then at the University of Wisconsin law school.
In 1990, he became dean of the Wisconsin law school. Bernstine came to Portland State in 1997, and his decade-long tenure was a time of tremendous growth in the university's student enrollment, new buildings and new programs. Bernstine is now based in Pennsylvania and is president of the Law School Admission Council.
Bernstine repeatedly emphasized the rapidity of social and technological change, which he said immigration and globalization had helped fuel. He said old jobs disappear and new ones are yet to emerge.
"You can't predict the future, but you can be prepared," Bernstine said.
Speaking at the mostly African-American church, which is headed by his cousin, the Rev. Alvin Bernstine, the former college president said whether the courts strike down affirmative action or uphold it, the onus is on underrepresented groups to strive in an increasingly competitive environment.
"Just a couple weeks ago, President Obama spoke at Morehouse College graduation, and basically he said there are no more excuses," Bernstine said. "As African-Americans, we have no more excuses. Many other groups have come to this country with far less than we have and have succeeded."
More than a dozen young people were honored Sunday for graduating from various schools and matriculating into four-year colleges. Bernstine praised them and urged them "don't be afraid to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you" in order to grow and succeed.
"Going to UC Berkeley was one of the best moves I ever made," Bernstine said. "And what I learned has taken me a long way. I'm 65 years old now, but it was only yesterday that I was sitting where you are now."