U.S. Secretary of Transportation to Speak at Whittier College Commencement

Whittier College News Release

Whittier College

Office of Public Relations
13406 Philadelphia St.
P.O. Box 634
Whittier, CA  90608-0634

Contact:  Judy Browning at (562) 907-4216
May 1, 2002           
Reference: 01/02: 59                                                                                


U.S.  Secretary of Transportation to Speak at Whittier College Commencement 

            Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta will be the keynote speaker at Whittier College’s 99th commencement on Friday, May 24, in Newman Memorial Stadium on campus.  The ceremony begins at 9 a.m. 

Mineta will be awarded an honorary degree by the college during the ceremonies, along with college Trustee Willard V.  Harris, Jr., and Linda Biehl, who established the Amy Biehl Foundation to help black South Africans with her late husband, Peter.  Peter Biehl, who died March 31, will be awarded the honorary degree posthumously.

Mineta, appointed to his position by George W.  Bush a year ago in January, is the first Secretary of Transportation to have served in another cabinet position.  When President Clinton named him Secretary of Commerce, Mineta became the first Asian Pacific American to serve in the Cabinet. 

Mineta was elected to Congress from California’s 15th District in 1974.  He represented the area, which included Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties in the heart of Silicon Valley, until 1995, when he retired to accept a vice presidency at Lockheed Martin Corp.

While in Congress, Mineta co-founded the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and served as its first chairman.  He was called the driving force behind passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which officially apologized for and redressed the injustices endured by Japanese Americans during WWII.

His legislative agenda included economic development, science and technology policy, trade, the environment, intelligence, the budget, civil rights issues and transportation.  He was chairman of the House Public Works and Transportation Committee from 1992–95 and also served as chairman of the committee’s aviation and surface transportation subcommittees.  He was a key author of the landmark Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, which shifted decisions on highway and mass transit planning to state and local governments. 

After leaving Congress, he chaired the National Civil Aviation Review Commission, which in 1997 issued recommendations on reducing traffic congestion and reducing the aviation accident rate.  The Clinton administration adopted many of the commission’s recommendations, including reform of the Federal Aviation Administration that helped it run more like a business.

Mineta, who grew up in San Jose, Calif., was among the 120,000 Japanese Americans relocated to internment camps during WWII.  He graduated from UC Berkeley with a B.S.  in business administration and later served as an intelligence officer in Japan and Korea before joining his father in the family business, Mineta Insurance.  He was elected to the city council of San Jose in 1967 and later served as mayor for three years, becoming the first Asian pacific American mayor of a major U.S.  city.

            Bill Harris has a long and distinguished association with Whittier College.  As a student, he was a member of the Orthogonian Society and participated in football and track.  He was named athlete of the year in 1955, the year he graduated with a B.A.  in chemistry.     

His contributions to the college include construction—along with his twin brother, Ben—of Harris Residence Center, which includes Harris and Turner residence halls.  He most recently served as chairman of the athletic campaign committee during Whittier’s $70 million capital campaign, Endowing the Tradition.  The committee raised more than $2.7 million toward the George Allen Fitness Center and the complete renovation of the Aubrey Bonham Track, leading to Whittier’s being able to host competitive track meets for the first time in decades.

As a college trustee, Harris has served on the Committee on Trustees, as chairman of the Building and Grounds Committee and as Vice Chairman of the Board.  In 1999, he received the Alumni Service award for his dedication to the college. 

Harris served as secretary and treasurer of the National Fitness Foundation and was a special advisor to President Ronald Reagan’s council on Physical Fitness and Sports.   In the 1980s, he was owner of the United States Football League’s Chicago Blitz, and later the Arizona Wranglers.  In addition, he is chairman and trustee of the Brethren Manor Senior Care Center in Long Beach, serves on the Board of Directors for the Prentice Day School for dyslexic children in Santa Ana, and has been active with such other organizations as the City of Hope and the Exchange Club of Long Beach.

Harris is president of Harris Taylor Management in Santa Ana.  Previously, he was founder and Chairman of the Board of Fireplace Manufactures, Inc.  He has been involved in many enterprises, construction and manufacturing projects with Ben, and he is co-owner, with his daughter Mary, of the Huntington Central Park Equestrian Center in Huntington Beach.

            Linda and Peter Biehl graduated from Whittier College in 1965.  In 1993, their daughter Amy, a Fulbright scholar, was murdered in the township of Guguletu, South Africa.  They established the Amy Biehl Foundation to carry on their daughter’s commitment to the people of the township, and later publicly forgave her killers, who were pardoned by South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission five years after her death.

The Amy Biehl Foundation focuses its grass-roots programs on improving health, education, income, recreation and security in the impoverished area through such efforts as after-school programs and a bakery that provides jobs for the community, whole-wheat bread, and commission money for distributors.  Peter Biehl once said, “Community responsibility is important.  Not everyone can be a Martin Luther King, but everyone should do something.”

Located 18 miles east of Los Angeles, Whittier College is an independent, four-year college offering traditional liberal arts majors and strong pre-professional programs taught in the context of the liberal arts.  Whittier Law School, which is accredited by the American Bar Association and is a member of the Association of American Law Schools, is located on a separate campus in Costa Mesa.

Whittier College Office of Communications
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