An Invitation to Ostrow Graduates: Connect to a Greater Purpose

Father Greg Boyle portrait in front of Homeboy Industries building



19 Mar 24

Father Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, to offer commencement address to Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry’s Class of 2024.

AT FIRST BLUSH, Father Greg Boyle acknowledges he’s a seemingly odd choice to offer the Commencement address to the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC’s Class of 2024. 

After all, Boyle has been a Catholic priest for the past four decades and carries only minimal knowledge of the dental profession.

“I don’t know anything about teeth except I own some,” Boyle jokes. 

But Boyle does know something — a lot, actually — about inspiring people to find and fulfill a greater purpose. In fact, that has been his life’s work.

A native Angeleno, Boyle founded Homeboy Industries in 1988 while serving as the pastor of Dolores Mission Church — Los Angeles’ poorest Catholic parish — in Boyle Heights, Calif. – the city’s most gang-populated neighborhood at the time. 

“We had eight gangs at war with each other in the housing projects which made up my parish,” Boyle recalls. 


Reimagining Lives


Boyle wanted to cultivate a different reality and offer locals a more productive life direction. He spearheaded the launch of a school, then a jobs program. In treating those on society’s margins as humans worthy of dignity, respect and opportunity, he saw life paths turn, futures brighten and former enemies who once pointed guns at each other sit at a table and break bread together.

Today, Homeboy Industries is the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program on the planet. It runs 13 social enterprises, including a bakery, a catering business, an electronics recycling operation and a silkscreen and embroidery business. The 500-employee nonprofit also offers a diverse array of services ranging from education and legal to workforce development and tattoo removal. 

Each year, Boyle says, about 10,000 individuals walk into Homeboy’s doors eager to reimagine their lives. He admires their resiliency and desire to craft a new story — and he and his team do everything they can to help. 

“I stand in awe at what they’ve had to carry rather than in judgment,” Boyle says of those he serves.

Homeboy’s record of transforming lives throughout the past 36 years has propelled Boyle’s public profile and given credibility to his message that pain can be turned into power, angst converted into agency. The Jesuit priest has penned three acclaimed books extolling the virtues of unconditional support and restorative love: Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship and The Whole Language: The Power of Extravagant Tenderness. Each year, he speaks to upward of 200 groups, often with his “homies and homegirls” in tow, delivering an inspiring message about the importance of nourishing human connections and fostering hope to business leaders, social workers, church groups, students and others.


An Invitation to Improve Lives


“Homeboy is really about creating a community of kinship and connection and trying to galvanize the imagination of people,” Boyle says.

In speaking to Ostrow’s Class of 2024, Boyle aims to encourage the graduating students to connect to a larger love and a greater purpose.

“These graduates are all entering the world, not just the workplace,” he reminds.

Boyle calls his Commencement address “an invitation” to create a society that’s better and more just, one where people can inhabit their own dignity and nobility. He hopes it’s a message the students take to heart as they enter their professional lives.

“No matter who people are, where they are, you try to invite them to the margins,” he says. “That’s how the margins will get erased, and lives will improve for the better.”

The satellite ceremony for the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC will take place Friday, May 10 at 2 p.m. at Brittingham Field on the University Park Campus. Visit the Commencement website for more information about Ostrow’s satellite ceremony. 

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