Campus & community, Events at Berkeley

At rainy commencement ceremony, a call to 'stay woke'

By Will Kane

Ask any one of the thousands of UC Berkeley graduates who attended Saturday’s rainy commencement ceremony about their most memorable moment at Berkeley, and you’re likely to get an answer as diverse as the group of graduates .

For Katherine Pittman, 23, it was playing her trombone on the field during her final Big Game in November. Misana Viltz, 23, will forever remember the thrill of taking a victory lap wrapped in a Cal flag after winning first place in the 110-meter hurdle during a meet at Stanford.

Briana Robles, 21, hopes to never forget the excitement of walking through Sather Gate, always wondering whether she’d encounter the men’s octet or the latest protest. And Caffery Zhu, 23, wasn’t ashamed to admit he’ll miss the clarifying thrill of finals week, where a semester’s worth of effort built to one three-hour exam.

“Cal gave me the ability to tell my own story; the ability to freely speak,” said Elizabeth Arutyunyan, 22, an English major who started and taught a student-led course for survivors of domestic violence. “This school is very open to different experiences and we learn by hearing from each other.”

a hat reads "it takes a village"

Students gathered for UC Berkeley’s commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 18, 2019. (UC Berkeley photo by Keegan Houser)

During the ceremony, many of the speakers encouraged the graduates to remember those memories of Berkeley and to take the lessons of the campus, both academic and personal, with them as they entered the professional world.

“We need each of you to get into the arena of addressing the world’s greatest injustices and societal threats as early as possible,” said keynote speaker Wendy Kopp , the founder of Teach for America.

“I’m betting on you to learn from previous generations, to bring your energy and ideas, and, as the most diverse generation of college graduates yet, to bring your experiences, family histories and community backgrounds to the table,” she continued. “I’m betting on you to make meaningful progress in the struggle for justice, freedom and a sustainable future.”

two women smile at camera

Chancellor Carol Christ, right, stands with keynote speaker Wendy Kopp. (UC Berkeley photo by Keegan Houser)

Chancellor Carol Christ also called on graduates to “stay woke” to “problems that are pervasive, that have many dimensions, that span national borders, that don’t care about partisan lines.”

“I hope you will not retreat from those challenges,” she said. “Even when things seem hopeless or pointless, you must not abandon civic life and a commitment to the public good. Advocate, campaign, or enter public service yourselves. Dissent, protest when it is needed. It will take a firm commitment to civic life to bring grace, justice and beauty to this world.”

students sit in the rain

Students sat in the rain during UC Berkeley’s commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 18, 2019. (UC Berkeley photo by Keegan Houser)

Tyler Chen, the winner of the University Medal, which recognizes Berkeley’s top graduate , had slightly more philosophical advice for his fellow graduates.

Chen related a story about almost being run down by a cyclist while walking near Doe Library.

“As the bike dude passes I hear he’s actually singing, ‘Hey! What a wonderful kind of day! What a wonderful kind of day!’” Chen said, explaining that Berkeley students should always be listening for those kind of messages during harrowing times.

“We’ll chart our own path, and we’ll lend an ear to listen carefully for what the guy on the bike is singing to himself – ‘Hey! What a wonderful kind of day!,’” he said.

It was a lesson James Fitts, 20, a media studies major, was trying to remember while huddled outside Memorial Stadium after the wet, cold two-hour ceremony.

“The rain,” he said, pausing to think. “It was a disappointment.”

Tad Tobar, 24, who transferred to Berkeley from a community college in San Diego and will earn a degree in business administration, had perhaps the most salient analysis of graduation.

“I’m going to miss learning,” he said. “But I won’t miss getting graded on it.”

a graduate cheers

A student celebrates at UC Berkeley’s commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 18, 2019. (UC Berkeley photo by Keegan Houser)

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