About 250 graduating seniors this year were eligible to compete for UC Berkeley’s coveted University Medal, an honor which requires a minimum GPA of 3.96 and favors a packed resume along with a track record of overcoming challenges and making a difference in people’s lives.
Of that elite pool, 35 applied for the University Medal, established in 1871, and the Prizes Committee selected five finalists. Water policy warrior Rebecca Peters triumphed, but the four runners-up – Kevin Kennedy, Brooke Liang, Rohin Shah and Sarah Mohamed – are each exceptional in their own right. The finalists will each receive a $500 award and undoubtedly go on to great things. Here is a little background on who they are, the philosophy that got them this far and where they’re headed.
Hometown: Encinitas, California
Major: English and pre-med
We have an ethical responsibility to help the less fortunate, and that personal benefit at the expense of others in society or around the globe is immoral.
Do not allow yourself to think that the purpose of learning, say, the enzymes involved in cellular respiration is to answer questions on an exam. Think of the broader picture: about how elusive, complex, and beautiful nature is, and how bizarre our own role in the universe is. I regret that it took me so long to figure this out.
I am proud to have made it through Berkeley while dealing with bad insomnia and related difficulties.
I took a literature class one summer where a student read William Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality” aloud. His passion for poetry was incredible and it left me riveted and shaking.
After high school, I worked on a few farms in Europe. I awoke one night with the urgent realization that I was doing the wrong things with my life. I resolved to go back to school and to transfer to Berkeley … I am extremely grateful to attend a school where, if you work hard and have a passion, you will always find people willing to give up their time to help you.
I have a friend who used to play the clarinet. I begged him to take it up again, all to no avail. I also love the sound of a jam band when I get the chance to play with my closest friends.
I am taking a few years off before I apply to graduate school, medical school or an M.D.-Ph.D. program in social medicine or the medical humanities. In the meantime, there are a number of books that I intend to read.
Hometown: Ottawa, Canada
Maybe I’m slow, but even after four years at Berkeley, I’m still trying to find my guiding philosophy. For now, I’m just going to stay hungry, and keep exploring.
Don’t drink too much coffee. Eat regularly. Sleep. Wear gloves in the lab. After a couple of dips in my health during freshman year, it hit me – really hit me – that in college you’re the only one who can truly take care of yourself.
It was being president of a student organization called International Service Learning at Berkeley. Leadership was never something that came naturally to me. But at Cal I found a cause I strongly believed in and a supportive community that really helped me to burst out of my shell.
Feeling the energy of the thousands-strong crowd during the Occupy Cal protest at Upper Sproul. The consciousness and energy of Cal students keep me feeling hopeful.
2014 University Medalist
Berkeley’s top graduating senior, Rebecca Peters, makes a splash in water policy.
I traveled to Nicaragua on a medical volunteer trip with a group of Cal students during my freshman year. It was an extremely eye-opening experience, and it helped me solidify my decision to become a doctor.
My favorite sound is white noise. I play it quietly when I’m going to sleep. I play it loudly when I’m studying. Maybe I play it a bit too loudly. I’ve missed the doorbell, phone calls, and my roommate pounding at my door. But I guess that’s the point of it: to help me focus.
Going to medical school. The two things I’m looking forward to most are anatomy lab and trying to figure out what kind of doctor I want to become.
Hometown: Pune, India
Major: Electrical engineering and computer science with a minor in physics
Do what you enjoy.
You haven’t really learned a topic until you’ve taught it, or developed it from scratch.
I once built a nine story house of cards. It took several hours of patience and carefully controlled movements. It got so nerve-wracking near the end that it took a few tries before I could calm myself down enough to stop my hands from shaking as I put on the final touches.
A few years ago, I was guiding a group of campers in the Tadoba wildlife reserve in India, and a tiger walked right in front of us.
Taking CS 164. This was my first upper division course at Berkeley, and I was immediately hooked on to the difficult problems and their elegant solutions. CS 164 was the class that first inspired me to do research, and eventually to apply to grad school.
The sound of pages turning. I love to read, and have spent entire days reading before.
I will be co-lecturing CS 61A over the summer, and then pursuing a Ph.D. in computer science here at Berkeley.
Hometown: Moraga, California
Major: Political science and comparative literature
There is an Arabic word for striving for perfection – ihsan – and it is considered an integral dimension of the religion of Islam. Ihsan encompasses excellence, sincerity and purity of intention.
You can plan and organize to your heart’s content, but something is always going to go differently than expected. The beauty of accepting, and embracing, a little uncertainty is one of the hardest lessons I have had to learn.
Last year I published an article dedicated to my grandmother. Seeing her smiling face as I handed her a copy of the magazine in which the article was published was worth more than anything else I had accomplished.
Seeing the stars in the desert, unencumbered by light pollution, and then watching the sunrise after hiking up Mount Sinai.
Coming to Berkeley. At the start of my freshman year, I told myself it was time to take my education and my identity into my own hands – to not let anyone or anything else define me. Consequently, I have learned more about myself in the last four years of college than I ever could have imagined I would.
I cannot decide which I love more: the gurgling of my coffee machine in the early morning or the sound of birds chirping on a spring day…both give me hope.
I plan to spend the next year working at a think tank focusing on researching Middle Eastern politics. In that time I hope to begin applying to graduate programs in International Relations and eventually pursue a career advocating for human rights, particularly focusing on women’s literacy in the Arab world. In my free time (if there is any) I would like to travel, get lost in a few bookstores, write the stories of people I meet, and get my scuba diving certification.