Commencement 2016: laughter, tears, resilience… and math

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Members of the Macias family, from San Jose, waited in the stands on tenterhooks, eager to spot graduating senior Oscar Macias Jr. as he entered Memorial Stadium in black cap and gown.

They hoisted a large, custom-printed poster covered with photos of Oscar. “Muchas Felicidades en tu Graduación,” it read.

“I’m so proud of that kid. He’s the first in the family to graduate from university,” said his father, Oscar Sr. “That’s how big this is for me.”

It was a big day, too, for 25,000 others there to cheer and photograph – under a gray sky well-suited to picture taking – some 4,700 new Berkeley graduates at the campuswide commencement, which featured a keynote from Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.

In an address evoking laughter and tears by turns, Sandberg spoke publicly for the first time about the sudden death of her husband just over a year ago. Build resilience to draw upon “not just on the easy days, like today, but on the hard ones, when you will need it,” she advised.

student with diploma

For graduation photos by students, friends and families, click the photo above to see their shares on Storify.

“You are not born with a fixed amount of resilience,” Sandberg said. “It’s a muscle. You can build it up.”

Chancellor Nicholas Dirks congratulated graduates on joining “the long line of alumni reaching back to 1868, whose lives are forever entwined with this great university.”

Revisiting the theme of Berkeley’s public ethos, even in the face of declining state investment, he spoke of finding ways for “us, together, to define and to inhabit the meaning of the public in our current age.”

At commencement the chancellor traditionally presents several top campus awards. This year the Elyse and Walter A. Haas International Award went to neuroscientist and philosopher Sir Colin Blakemore, who earned his Ph.D. at Berkeley in 1968.

Kaavya Valiveti, 21, accepted the University Medal, given to the top graduating senior. Recently named one of the outstanding female math undergraduates in the country, Valiveti remarked upon how many girls and women feel they don’t belong in math and science.

For her it turned out differently, she said, in part because of a faculty member who assured her that she “truly belonged in the field of math.”

Graduating physics major Thomas Bloom came wearing a small digital point-of-view camera mounted against his head – so as to share the excitement , via his vlog, with his infant son back home in Oceanside.

Up in the stands Caroline, a mother from Santa Monica, waited with at least 20 family members, from across the country, to see Madeleine Siegel graduate.

Mom was on her feet, screaming “Good job,” as degrees were conferred, caps were launched aloft and the stadium was engulfed in joyous mayhem.