Mind the flying caps and balloons! Commencement takes place Saturday

The season of caps, gowns, diplomas, balloons and bouquets moves into full swing at the University of California, Berkeley, this weekend. More than 3,000 newly-minted graduates — about 600 more than last year — are set to walk across the stage at Commencement Convocation on Saturday (May 12). The event is expected to run from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

UC Berkeley's graduation season is upon us

The annual campus-wide ceremony honoring all graduating seniors will be held at Edwards Track Stadium on the southwest corner of campus. The keynote speaker will be Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, a software engineer, Internet pioneer and UC Berkeley’s 2012 Alumnus of the Year.

Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, who will leave his post to return to teaching and research at the end of this year, will address the graduates and their families. A capacity crowd of 16,000 people is expected for the event, which will include speeches, awards, and students, faculty and campus administrators in colorful regalia. No diplomas are awarded at the ceremony, but the name of each participating graduating senior is called out as the students cross the stage to “Pomp and Circumstance” to receive a handshake and a bear pin.

At least 7,000 UC Berkeley students will receive diplomas this month at nearly 100 ceremonies being sponsored by the campus’s individual departments, colleges and units. More than 10,000 bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral and professional degrees are expected to be conferred for the 2011-12 academic year, as some students were awarded degrees last summer and winter.

Currently, the most popular majors for UC Berkeley graduates include economics, political science, integrative biology, business administration, psychology, English, electrical engineering and computer sciences, sociology, history and media studies. On average, students who enter UC Berkeley as freshmen take four years to earn their undergraduate degrees, according to the campus’s Office of Planning and Analysis.

Among the student speakers at commencement will be top graduating senior Eric Olliff, a double major in Chinese language and literature and in conservation and resource studies. He will receive the coveted University Medal at Saturday’s ceremony in recognition of his scholarship, public service and amazing life experiences.

Keynote speakers at individual department graduation ceremonies that run  throughout May will include Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a former derivatives trader who wrote the 2007 New York Times best-seller The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable; Daniel McFadden, a UC Berkeley professor of economics in the Graduate School and recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in economics; award winning science-fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson, author of the “Mars Trilogy”; Deena Gonzalez, UC Berkeley’s first Ph.D. recipient in Chicana history, and an expert on borderlands  studies; and physicist Freeman Dyson, author of numerous books on the origins of life, nuclear weapons and the cosmos.

Below is a sampling of speakers scheduled to address graduates at ceremonies this month:

Saturday, May 12

  • Thomas Siebel, chairman of the First Virtual Group, will speak to engineering students receiving their master’s and doctoral degrees at 9 a.m. at the Greek Theatre.
  • Deena Gonzales, author and director of faculty development at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, will speak at the campus’s Chicano-Latino graduation at 7 p.m. at the Greek Theatre.

Sunday, May 13

  • Dudley Herschbach, chemistry professor at Harvard University, will speak to graduates in chemistry at 2 p.m. in Zellerbach Auditorium.
  • Award-winning science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson will speak to graduates of the English Department at 3 p.m. at the Greek Theatre.
  • Emily Pilloton, founder and executive director of Project H Design, which aims to improve communities through architecture, will address graduates of the College of Environmental Design at 7 p.m. in Zellerbach Auditorium.

Monday, May 14

  • Freeman Dyson, a theoretical physicist and mathematician famous for his work in quantum electrodynamics, solid-state physics, astronomy and nuclear engineering, will address mathematics graduates at 2 p.m. at Zellerbach Auditorium.
  • Marni Wood, a professor emerita who danced with Martha Graham in the 1960s and helped create UC Berkeley’s dance program, will speak to graduates of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies, at 2 p.m. at Zellerbach Playhouse.
  • UC Berkeley astronomer Alex Filippenko, a member of the Nobel Prize-winning team that discovered that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, will speak to astronomy graduates at 7 p.m. at Zellerbach Auditorium.

Tuesday, May 15

  • Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a former derivatives trader and author of “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable,” which explains about how rare and unpredictable events color how we view the world of chance. He will speak to statistics graduates at 2 p.m. at Wheeler Hall.

Friday, May 18

  • Margo Alexander, a former PaineWebber senior executive, will speak to undergraduates receiving degrees in business administration at 9 a.m. at the Greek Theatre.
  • Keith Yamamoto, vice chancellor for research and professor of cellular and molecular pharmacology at UCSF, will speak to students receiving master’s degrees in molecular and cell biology at 2 p.m. at Zellerbach Playhouse.

Saturday, May 19

  • Shantanu Narayen, CEO of Adobe, will speak to MBA graduates at 9 a.m. at the Greek Theatre.
  • Prudence Carter, associate professor of education at Stanford University and author of “Keepin’ it real: School Successes beyond Black and White,” will speak to graduates in African American Studies at 2 p.m. in Zellerbach Auditorium.
  • Angela Glover-Blackwell, founder and CEO of Policy Link, a national research institute for the advancement of economic and social equity, will speak to public health graduates at 9 a.m. at Zellerbach Auditorium.

Sunday, May 20

  • Robert Reich, UC Berkeley professor of public policy, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and well-known political commentator, will speak to graduates of the Graduate School of Education at 2 p.m. at Zellerbach Auditorium.

Related links: