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Los Angeles School Named for Julian Nava '51

Julian Nava speaking at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Dr. Julian Nava Learning Academy

Julian Nava speaking at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Dr. Julian Nava Learning Academy

Cutting the ribbon at the Dr. Julian Nava Learning Academy

Cutting the ribbon at the Dr. Julian Nava Learning Academy

On Wednesday, November 30, Julian Nava ’51 was on hand in Los Angeles for a great honor and celebration: The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new middle school named after him.

The Dr. Julian Nava Learning Academy on Adams Boulevard in Los Angeles is a unique middle school for students seeking specific learning paths. Housed in a new building that opened to students in September, the Academy is actually three schools focusing on science, business and technology, and arts and music, with three separate principles and staffs—similar to our own consortium.

Nava says he was completely surprised by the honor. “After serving 12 years on the [LAUSD] Board, I feel at home at the L.A. Unified School District,” says Nava, who was the first Mexican-American to be elected to the board in 1967.  Regarding the school name, Nava notes with some pleasure that Los Angeles maps printed in the future will forever be emblazoned with his name.

Nava is a recognized Latino leader and role model in the United States. The son of Mexican immigrants, he was raised in East L.A. and says even through junior high, he was still learning English as Spanish was spoken at home. He struggled in high school and joined the Navy as soon as he legally could at age 17 during World War II.

“So I grew up fast,” recalled Nava the day before the ceremony. “But it wasn’t until I was in the Navy--and this is what I’ll try to communicate to the young people at the ceremony--that I became awake. I realized because in the Navy I had to learn complicated things fast and well, that I could learn anything I wanted to and do anything I set my mind to by simply dedicating myself and doing it.”

After his service, he attended East Los Angeles Community College before transferring to Pomona as a junior. He graduated with a degree in history and then earned his doctorate in Latin American history from Harvard University. He taught history at California State University at Northridge from 1957 to 2000.

Most notably, in 1980 Nava was the first Mexican-American to be appointed the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico by then President Jimmy Carter. He is the author of several history books, as well as a memoir, Julian Nava: My Mexican-American Journey (2002).

“He is a great role model for our community and our students,” says Principal Hugo Carlos of the business and technology school at the Dr. Julian Nava Learning Academy and, coincidentally, a former college student of Nava’s. “He is someone who will be a beacon of light for our community for years to come.”

In 2008, Pomona College Magazine profiled Nava’s role on the school board during the famous 1968 school walkouts. Read the story here.