Here is the full text of Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau’s commencement address, delivered May 12:
Cal graduates, family, friends and guests, welcome to the University of California, Berkeley and to Commencement 2012.
My name is Robert Birgeneau, and it is my privilege to serve Berkeley as its ninth Chancellor. I am also a faculty member in the Departments of Physics and of Materials Science and Engineering.
Graduates, today is your day. You renew the proud line of alumni whose education and life are forever entwined with Berkeley. Congratulations, Class of 2012!
Graduation is a treasured moment for students and their families. So many of you wanted to participate that in the last three years, we have had to move Commencement from the Greek Theatre to the Haas Pavilion, to this bigger venue; 3200 graduates and 16,000 of their families and friends have joined us today!
We come together at Commencement 2012 to honor our past, celebrate the excitement of the present, and look forward to the promise of the future.
Today, each of you, as members of the graduating class, will experience the same joy, the same sense of personal accomplishment, as the many hundreds of thousands of graduates who have preceded you throughout Cal’s proud history.
Each family here has traveled a distinctive path to arrive at today’s graduation. Many of you are the first in your family to graduate from college; others are fourth-generation Cal graduates. This event has special significance for all of you.
Graduates, please join me in thanking your families and all the other partners, children and friends who have stood by you with their understanding and support.
Please also join me in thanking the faculty and staff members and all those participating here today with us to make this such a joyful Commencement ceremony.
Graduates, this is your special time, a major milestone in each of your lives. Commencement recognizes and celebrates your accomplishments.
Today you are congratulated on your progress toward a significant reward for all your toil and perseverance – a university degree, and not just any university degree, a University of California, Berkeley degree!
Graduates, a Berkeley degree means that you have received the best possible education that only a world-class research and teaching university such as Berkeley can offer. You have been taught by leading researchers and scholars who bring to the classroom a depth of understanding and a real passion for their subject.
During your time here, Berkeley faculty won two Nobel prizes, one in economics awarded to Oliver Williamson and one in physics to Saul Perlmutter. Both are outstanding researchers and teachers.
You have participated in knowledge being transformed by investigation and discovery, and you will have even contributed to that process.
As Berkeley students, you will have learned to be change-makers, risk-takers and boundary-breakers.
Each of you, in your own way, has made significant contributions during your time at Berkeley and learned from each other. You are a part of the rich intellectual, cultural, geographic, ethnic, gender, religious and socioeconomic diversity that makes studying at Berkeley such a dynamic learning experience.
I have been most impressed by your zeal for ensuring the long-term health of our planet. You have educated me and others on greenness and pushed hard for our commitment to sustainability. Your ingenuity has shown us what marvelous things one can do to make our campus greener. Your passion for responsible stewardship of our planet is reflected in the many green energy projects in which the campus is engaged.
You have flocked to our Global Poverty and Practice program. Your inventiveness has already resulted in projects that will improve life in impoverished areas of the world.
You have responded to crises around the world with compassion, energy and commitment to Berkeley’s ideal of public service, setting up programs to help Haiti after its devastating earthquake and assisting in Japan after the tsunami.
In all dimensions, you have brought us great pride.
During your time here, Cal continued its 39 straight years of winning NCAA championships. Cal became just the fourth school in history ever to see its men’s and women’s swimming and diving programs repeat as NCAA champions, capturing the crown in 2011 and now 2012. All of us will be cheering on Cal graduates in the summer Olympics.
As the class of 2012, you arrived at Berkeley at the start of the economic crisis that has affected our and other nations, and have seen its effects on public higher education.
Many of you have worked with us to advocate for public higher education and to bring attention to the state’s diminishing support for California’s outstanding public higher-education system.
We have listened to your concerns about growing cost and accessibility. We have worked hard to increase financial aid for students from low-income families and recently introduced a plan to help middle-income families, the first ever such program for a public university in the U.S. This will be your legacy to the students who will follow you.
I point out with great pride that at Berkeley we have as many undergraduates with Pell grants, those whose family incomes are under $45,000, as all of the eight Ivy League universities combined. This is a remarkable achievement, and it represents the “public” and inclusive nature of Berkeley more succinctly than any other statistic I might cite.
You have also generously volunteered your time to reach out to communities that are underrepresented on our campus and worked to help ensure that everyone feels welcomed at Cal. You have helped make us a more equitable and inclusive community.
As you leave Cal, I ask two things of you:
One, please continue to speak out for, and support public universities. Here, in California, we have the finest public higher-education system in the nation, indeed in the world. Sadly, it is under great duress. We need the people of California and especially, our legislators to understand the importance of this precious resource that is so vital to the future well-being of this great state.
Two, please continue Berkeley’s great tradition of public service by volunteering your services to your community. Whether as a tutor to a needy high school student, a “Big Sister” to a young girl in an impoverished neighborhood, a member of Teach for America or the Peace Corps, I hope that you will continue to seek out opportunities to give back to your communities, locally, nationally, and globally.
Berkeley prides itself on students who are independent and self-directed. Berkeley students are innovators and risk-takers. Berkeley students are leaders!
You will see these qualities exemplified in your commencement speaker and fellow alumnus, Dr. Eric E. Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, Inc. He will make this commencement a memorable one for you.
Graduates, this commencement marks a turning point for you. You may not know where the future will take you, but as you go, know that we will be there with you.
We are very proud of you. We are proud that you are joining a community of Cal alums more than 450,000 strong, all of whom have a common bond — their pride in Berkeley.
You too will always be members of the Cal community. Please stay in touch with your university and continue to share, from near and far, in what our university has to offer.
I hope that you will remember the excellent education that you received here and that it will serve you, and society, well in the years to come. May your lives be richly rewarding and fulfilling, and may you enjoy much happiness. Congratulations and good luck, Class of 2012! GO BEARS!