California Senator Kamala D. Harris, only the second African American woman elected to the U.S. Senate and a leading progressive voice, will deliver the commencement address to UC Berkeley’s 2018 graduating class.
This will be the first time Harris, a graduate of Howard University and UC Hastings College of the Law, has spoken at a UC Berkeley commencement ceremony. This year’s takes place Saturday, May 12, at California Memorial Stadium.
“My parents met at UC Berkeley when they were active in the civil rights movement, so this university will always mean a great deal to me,” Harris said. “I look forward to speaking to these young people who are on the verge of the next chapter of their lives and represent the future of our country.”
The Californians, a group of UC Berkeley students responsible for planning parts of the commencement exercises, nominated Harris to speak to an audience of about 40,000 — graduates, proud parents and guests.
“She embodies a lot of the ideals that the UC Berkeley campus embodies,” said Jessica Li-Jo, a graduating cognitive science major and president of the group’s Senior Class Council. “She is very fearless and vocal, and she shares her opinions about issues in the news. And at UC and UC Berkeley, we are usually like that as well. We fight against any injustices that we see.”
Harris, 53, has stood out in the last year as a fierce defender of California and its people, and is widely considered to be a future presidential candidate. Harris was elected in 2016 to the Senate, where she serves on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the Select Committee on Intelligence, the Committee on the Judiciary and the Committee on the Budget.
Harris’s mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, came to UC Berkeley from India in 1958 to study nutrition and endocrinology. It was at Berkeley where she met Donald Harris, a Jamaican economics graduate student. Harris has said that after she was born, her parents would often put her in a stroller and wheel her to civil rights marches in the Bay Area.
After her parents divorced, Harris grew up in a black neighborhood in Berkeley. “(My mother) had two black babies, and she raised them to be two black women,” Harris told the New York Times Magazine in a 2016 profile.
Harris graduated from Howard University in 1986, before returning to the Bay Area to earn her law degree from UC Hastings College of the Law in 1989. While a student at Hastings, Harris was president of the Black Law Students Association and advocated for greater diversity as part of the Legal Education Opportunity Program.
She was elected San Francisco’s district attorney in 2003, and California’s attorney general in 2010. She is married to Doug Emhoff, is stepmother to Ella and Cole Emhoff and is the author of the book Smart on Crime: A Career Prosecutor’s Plan to Make Us Safer.