Chancellor Carol Christ had a clear message for the 600 UC Berkeley graduates at Saturday’s commencement ceremony: Think beyond yourself and attend to your civic life just as you do a personal and professional life.
“Our civic life does not mean simply voting in elections — in fact, even those who cannot vote can live immensely important civic lives,” Christ said. “Instead, it is the sum of all the good that you do in your community.”
Christ was just one of the speakers at the ceremony who asked the doctorate, master’s and bachelor’s graduates to find meaning outside of themselves and focus their intellect and energy on the world’s most pressing problems: climate change, inequality and the rise of illiberalism.
Berkeley Law graduate Ambassador Jeff Bleich, winner of the Peter E. Haas Public Service Award, given each winter commencement, called on graduates to remember that “honest service to others is the only thing that brings contentment.” Student speaker Mahnoor Mian, an applied math graduate, reminded the audience to not shy away from daunting tasks: “Nothing can scare us, because we made it through Berkeley.”
And gold-medal Olympian Nathan Adrian, a 2012 graduate of UC Berkeley, insisted in his keynote address that the graduates set high goals, find mentors, invest in themselves, and, he added with a wink, “feel free to leave your phone in your pocket for an entire meal — or speech — every once in awhile!”
In all, Saturday’s commencement featured all the pageantry common to ceremonies across colleges and universities. “Pomp and Circumstance” played, proud parents hooted from the stands, graduates decorated their caps to celebrate friends or college clubs and reflected on the highs and lows of their time at Berkeley.
Ernesto Sanchez could barely hold back tears as he stood with son, American Studies graduate Bryan Benitez, 23, after the ceremony.
“I’m very proud,” he said. “It is a big accomplishment.”
Benitez, who lived in Huntington Park before coming to Berkeley, spent a year away from school but came back, determined to finish his degree.
“This is a relief, a weight has been lifted off me,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to 2019 with no finals and no classes.”
Benitez said his top moment at UC Berkeley happened just a few days earlier when he handed in his 35-page senior thesis on sneaker culture and corporate social responsibility. He already works for the sneaker company Allbirds and plans to climb the ranks into management after graduation, he said.
Evelyn Rivas, a social welfare major, was standing alone after the ceremony, trying to find family and friends. The pause gave the 23-year-old from Los Angeles County room to think about her time at Berkeley.
“I still can’t really believe it,” she said, adding that she will teach special education through Teach for America for two years before exploring graduate school. “I’m going to miss my friends, Thursday nights at Pappy’s. I’m going to miss the Bay Area, the weather here is so much more cloudy than at home. I’m going to miss it all.”
Contact Will Kane at firstname.lastname@example.org