Activist, lawyer Chesa Boudin will speak at graduation


Photo Provided by Chesa Boudin

FIGHTING FOR REFORM. Chesa Boudin, a 1999 U-High alumnus, talks with residents of San Francisco. Mr. Boudin's parents were incarcerated when he was a child, and he hopes to reform the criminal justice system through fair enforcement and ending mass incarceration amongst other city reforms

Nikhil Patel, Editor-in-Chief

In 1981, when Chesa Boudin was 14 months old, his parents were arrested for a bank robbery that killed three people and injured three others. He was adopted by their close friends, who were the former leaders of a radical underground communist movement known as the “Weathermen,” and spent his childhood in Hyde Park, only visiting his parents behind bars.

Today, Mr. Boudin is a successful public defender in San Francisco and a candidate for the city’s district attorney. A 1999 U-High alumnus, he will speak at graduation June 13 at Rockefeller Chapel. 

After Lab, Mr. Boudin went to Yale and then Oxford for four years as a Rhodes Scholar. Before law school, he went to Venezuela and served as a translator for then-President Hugo Chavez. In 2015, he began working as a deputy public defender, and in January 2019, he announced his candidacy for San Francisco district attorney, a position once held by Sen. Kamala Harris.

Mr. Boudin credits the Laboratory Schools with giving him the support that he needed to be able to succeed.

“Because of the difficulties I faced due to my parents’ incarceration, when I first got to Lab School, I had a lot of challenges,” Mr. Boudin said, “and Lab School was very supportive.  It was a great space to find not only friends but mentors and teachers who were willing to be patient with me and give me the time and individualized attention I needed to catch up with my peers.”

From a young age, Mr. Boudin was interested in pursuing a career in law. His grandfather, uncle and adoptive mother were all heavily involved in the field, he said. However, the Lab Schools equipped him with tools he used to build his career.

“I learned study skills, organizational skills, critical thinking skills, research and writing skills, teamwork skills from all the different sports I did at Lab School, social skills in terms of being part of a broad and diverse group of friends,” Mr. Boudin said. “I give Lab School credit for all that.”

Mr. Boudin made the most of his opportunities. He joined activities such as Model UN, gaining valuable experience, and took advantage of things like the geography exam.

“I liked the geography exam, because I love world travel, I love being engaged in the world and knowing where I am,” Mr. Boudin said. “I really learned a lot about the world through that geography test I took freshman year.”

History teacher Susan Shapiro, who he credits as one of his most influential U-High teachers, remembers Mr. Boudin vividly.

“He was willing to buck the conventional wisdom and do so with the right spirit,” Ms. Shapiro said. “Not ‘I’m gonna catch you,’ but ‘Why is it that way?’ It’s a kind of inquisitiveness thats reflective of the best we have at Lab.”

When he was taking Early World History, Mr. Boudin challenged himself and his class to have everyone get an A or higher on the geography exam — all but one of his classmates succeeded.

“This is the way he was,” Ms. Shapiro said. “He takes on a challenge and he puts his whole being into it. And that’s sort of the way he’s always been — he sees challenges as opportunities. What a wonderful way to look at the world.”

Mr. Boudin credits Lab for building a foundation for his life, particularly valuable as he seeks social justice.

He said, “The critical thinking, the independence and the ethical foundation I learned at Lab school for how I approach problems and relationships I hope will continue to serve me well as I embark on a challenging political journey.”