At Convocation 2013, Apple co-founder hails Berkeley’s ‘human values’

A crowd of some 3,900 in black caps and gowns, on the gridiron, and 21,000 fanatically proud fans in the stands above, all rooting for the home team, turned  out at California Memorial Stadium Saturday, May 18, for Commencement Convocation 2013.

It was the first time since 1969, the year “The Age of Aquarius” was the rage and humans first walked on the moon, that UC Berkeley held its annual campuswide graduation ceremony in the Strawberry Canyon sports venue.

This time, many parents eyed a large video screen, atop a scoreboard tower, for sight of their gleeful seniors dancing onto the playing field, larger than life, from the stadium’s north tunnel. Others, looking down on the geometric mass of black robes and mortar boards filling the distance between the 20-yard lines, located a sibling or friend via smartphone communiques to the field.

“As the Woz speaks, people are playing with their Apple products,” one mom tweeted.

‘The Woz’: H = S – F

“The Woz” was keynote speaker Steven Wozniak, who dropped out of Berkeley in 1971, co-founded Apple Computer in 1976 and returned to complete his bachelor’s degree in 1986.

In a free-form, 15-minute address, Wozniak spoke of college as a time when one’s personality and values are formed. In his case, he said, “I wanted to be at Berkeley because it was a symbol of intellectual thought…. A lot of intellectuals on this campus stood up for human values and human rights.”

Student opposition to the “unjust” Vietnam war, sometimes met with tear gas and rubber bullets, turned him pacifist, he said, and sensitized him to human-rights issues like “the fair treatment of prisoners.”

Wozniak leavened his address with remarks on other, wide-ranging topics — from his formula for happiness (H=S-F, or happiness equals smiles minus frowns) to his endorsement of “some misbehavior” at this time of life (advice the Class of 2013 met with cheers).

Excerpts from Steve Wozniak’s address.

“You don’t have to win arguments,” the tech innovator counseled, quoting the lyrics of Dave Mason: “‘There ain’t no good guys/ There ain’t no bad guys/There’s only you and me/ And we just disagree.'”

Among those in the stands, facing the green Berkeley hills on a perfect spring day and taking it all in, was Tina Wung, a recent college grad herself, who flew in from New Jersey to see her brother Roy, a civil-engineering major, walk across the stage. Others from the family — their parents, from Taiwan, and sister from Santa Clara — were on hand as well. “We’re proud of him; he’s the youngest,” Wung said.

Nearby a family from the Seattle area kept a lookout for Richard Stauffer, a transfer student who, during his two years on campus, complemented his award-winning EECS studies with fraternity service, unicycle riding and juggling.

Young alum: ‘Take risks’

The “young-alumni speaker,” CNN White House correspondent Brianna Keilar, praised the Berkeley education that “enriched me and so nearly escaped me,” as she put it. Keilar’s initial application to Berkeley was rejected, she recalled, so she put her heart into an appeal, and the decision was reversed. “The university was testing my character,” she surmised.

Soon after earning her degree in 2001, Keilar began a career in reporting, “the only job that wasn’t going to feel like work,” she said. She recalled landing, alone and scared, in Yakima, Wash., where she covered everything from forest fires to a methamphetamine bust — and gained invaluable experience in rural America, as she now sees it.

Since moving east, Keilar has covered high-profile stories like the Virginia Tech shooting tragedy, where parents waited “for news that would destroy them,” and the first African American president, among other assignments. Her advice to seniors: “Take risks. And make sure you wear shoes you can run in.”

Ritankar Das, 18, winner of the 2013 University Medal, likewise recounted a tough but ultimately rewarding challenge, the launch of the Berkeley Chemical Review, an undergrad journal of which he is editor-in-chief. “I hope we’ll all find something we truly love,” said the top-ranking senior. “Nothing else really matters.”

All during college, “our families encouraged and consoled us,” Das added. “Our families opened their hearts and their bank accounts.”

In the stands, Southern California resident Sunanda Parashar — “proud mom” of Radhika Parashar, an English and Southeast Asian studies major — spoke to the bottom line as well. “It was worth our money,” she said plainly.

Radhika, after being home schooled, was “enamored” with the prospect of the “friends, groups, circles” possible at Berkeley, her mom recalled, and flowered once she got to campus: She got involved in CalSO (the orientation program for new students), worked in Berkeley Law’s Henderson Center for Social Justice (she hopes to go to law school) and studied post-colonial literature in India and Ireland. “She had so many opportunities,” said her mother.

Younger brother Krishna, in fact, “was so impressed” that he set his sights on getting into Berkeley, and is now in his freshman year.

A ‘special shout-out’

Robert Birgeneau, who steps down as Berkeley chancellor in June after more than eight years at the helm, told the Class of 2013 that “this is my graduation as well as yours.” Noting that each family present “traveled a distinctive path” to attain a Berkeley degree, Birgeneau offered a “special shout-out” to undocumented students, given the difficult challenges they’ve had to overcome.

He urged seniors, as they go out into the world, to advocate for public higher education and to offer themselves in public service.

As a first down payment on that mandate, the Class of 2013 presented a supersized cardboard check representing $113,628.80. More than 1,500 graduating seniors contributed to the 2013 class gift, most of it going to support campus departments.

As noon approached, all 3,900 graduates crossed the stage, one by one, as their names, originating from every corner of the globe, were read out over the loudspeaker. Soon, these new grads, many flower-laden and virtually all with an entourage, spilled out onto the stadium plaza for photo ops, preferably with a tall, white bell tower or a large bear sculpture in the background, as totem of their Berkeley years.