Bittersweet farewell for Berkeley’s December grads

Professor Robert Reich linked his signature concern, income inequality, to climate change and its disproportionate impacts on the world’s poorest, in a keynote address Sunday at Berkeley’s December Commencement. (Text continues below slideshow; see video of Robert Reich’s address at bottom.)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“A society that grows too divided” imperils both our economy and our democracy, the former U.S. secretary of labor told those gathered in the campus’s basketball arena for the morning ceremony in Haas Pavilion.

“We have no choice but to reverse these trends,” he told some 650 members of the Class of 2015 seated on the court in caps and gowns, and another 5,000 supporters in the stands.

“It was a struggle, but we made it,” beamed social welfare major Puka Lopa, holding his 10-month-old son, Majour, as he waited to accept his diploma. His time on the Cal football squad, where he played defensive end, was a “neat life” he would miss, he added.

Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, in his remarks, spoke of challenges at the campus level, where “racism … and stereotyping can inhibit not just free speech but full membership in the university community” for some, and of current perils in society.

“We hear irresponsible political rhetoric sowing distrust, resentment and even open hostility toward our fellow citizens. We see political figures both in Europe and America, rejecting any obligation to refugees,” Dirks said. In such times, “We must not forget our principles of compassion, inclusion and a plural and open society.”

Student speaker Jonathan Soormaghen, a political economy major with a concentration in economic inequality and a self-proclaimed fan of Reich’s, called the day “bittersweet.” He never imagined himself transferring from community college to the world’s “best public university,” he said, or becoming the first in his family to earn a college degree.

The crowd included nearly two dozen extended family members of English major Rebecca Delgado. “This is her passion,” her proud mom, Evelyn, said of her youngest daughter’s enthusiasm for education.