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University Medalist to fellow graduates: The future will be ‘wonderful’

Tyler Chen asks his fellow students to look for the bright moments during harrowing times

two people smile
Joseph Greenwell, UC Berkeley's dean of students, left, took a selfie with Tyler Chen, winner of the University Medal. (UC Berkeley photo by Keegan Houser)
Tyler Chen, UC Berkeley’s top graduate, spoke to his fellow graduates on Saturday, May 18, 2019. (UC Berkeley video by Roxanne Makasdjian and Stephen McNally)

Tyler Chen, an engineering major and the winner of the University Medal, the award given to Berkeley’s top graduate, gave the following remarks to his fellow graduates at Saturday’s commencement:

Wow. What’s up everyone?

Before I start, I just want to give a shoutout to the parents and everyone who’s here today and just say thank you. We wouldn’t be here without you.


My friends, teammates, classmates, fellow graduates. We made it. Congratulations!

You all know it hasn’t been easy. In our time at Berkeley, we’ve pushed ourselves to the breaking point trying to measure up to the lofty expectations the academic world has of us. And this need to be successful is ingrained in Berkeley’s culture — we have myths and legends about it! For the non-Berkeley students, everyone at Berkeley hears from day one about the cursed seals around Memorial Glade. The legend goes you should never, ever, step on these gold seals. Why? Because stepping on the seal means you get cursed with bad grades! Stepping on the seal means you lower your GPA! Stepping on the seal means you let go of Berkeley’s academic standards. Every day we see groups of students walking up Memorial Glade and splitting to avoid the seal — the curse is that powerful.

Just the other day, I was sitting there on the Glade, surrounded by the cursed Berkeley seals, and I had a rare moment where I could stop and think. Let me take you there.

The sun’s beating down on Memorial Glade in the heart of campus, which, graduates, you know is a special kind of place. I sit here in the middle, with the grass beneath my feet. It feels like home. Because at Berkeley we’ve been taught to do big things, but as I sit here on the Glade, it’s the little things that catch my attention. There’s a guy using his laptop as a pillow. There’s a llama? I hear snippets of conversation — something about memes and edgy teens.

I look to my right, I look to my left, and I see some of the best friends I have ever had. Perhaps if you look at who’s next to you now, you can say the same thing.

As I sit there, I know I’m going to miss this place. But I pick up my bag and walk past Doe Library, up that asphalt path toward real life.

I’m sure you can picture it now, trudging up that slope — library on your right, glade on your left and a big hill up ahead. Now, as I’m walking, I hear a noise in front of me. And it gets louder. And it gets louder. And, this is a true story, I glance up, and there’s this huge dude on a tiny bike barreling down the hill right at me. First of all, raise your hand if that was you!

two people smile

Joseph Greenwell, UC Berkeley’s dean of students, left, takes a selfie with Tyler Chen, winner of the University Medal. (UC Berkeley photo by Keegan Houser)

So, anyway, this guy’s coming straight at me, and he doesn’t see me. So I’m just standing there, petrified. I have no choice — I have to dodge, so I go to sidestep, and I look down at where my foot’s about to land, and I see it. It’s the cursed Berkeley seal. So now I’m TWICE as scared, because the only way to avoid getting hit is to get cursed. But I definitely don’t want to get hit, so I dodge and just stand there on the seal. I can feel the curse hitting me, but as the bike dude passes, I hear he’s actually singing. “Hey! What a wonderful kind of day! What a wonderful kind of day!”

Now I’m confused. I just almost got run over, and then I got cursed! How could this day be wonderful? But in that moment, listening to that huge dude sing, I thought to myself, “Maybe this curse isn’t so bad. Maybe now’s the time. Maybe graduating from the academic ruler is the only way to find something that matters more.”

That’s the true secret of the Berkeley curse. Realizing that there comes a time when it’s okay to step on the seal. To graduate and to move on. To stop living our lives by other people’s standards and look past the rulers others use to measure our worth, because only then can we choose to live by our own measure of success.

It’s an exciting, scary world out there. And there are a lot of unsolved problems. At Berkeley, we’ve found out that the equation to solve climate change is not online, that solutions to inequality, war and poverty are not handed out in discussion section. Most importantly, we’ve learned that the answers people used to solve last year’s problems may not be the right ones for today’s world.

But that’s okay, because Berkeley also taught us that life will throw challenges at us, and one day after graduating we may wake up to find a huge dude on a tiny bike headed straight for us. As the curse-bearing graduates of this fine university, we’ll know what to do. We’ll step on the seal, we’ll chart our own path and we’ll lend an ear to listen carefully for what the guy on the bike is singing to himself — “Hey! What a wonderful kind of day!”

Having spent the past few years with you all, I know our future will be just that — wonderful. Thank you and congratulations.