ASUC President Amma Sarkodee-Adoo gave the following address during New Student Convocation, a ceremony welcoming new students to Berkeley:
If I remember one thing about my first couple weeks at Cal, it’s the insane flurry of questions. Pretty much every conversation I had started with, “What’s your major?” or, “What dorm are you in?” and I’m embarrassed to say that I forgot some people’s answers to those questions as soon as we stopped talking. So, I wanted to share with y’all the questions that I wish I had asked.
I now ask pretty much everyone I meet here, “Why Berkeley?” and every answer is different. For some people, “location” means being in the Bay Area, in one of the most dynamic and culturally significant places in the United States. For others, location means that, for the first time you’re out on your own, 10,000 miles from home. For some people, coming to Berkeley for “family” means joining a long line of Golden Bears, that you’ve had this in the back of your brain since you were old enough to walk and talk. For others, family means being the first in your family to step foot on a college campus and living your ancestors’ wildest dreams, simply by being here.
I asked a professor of mine this question a few weeks ago, and she gave me one of my favorite answers I’ve ever heard. She told me, “Berkeley is intrinsically, irremovably linked to the real world. You cannot separate the two.” There’s something so special about the way students here are willing to fight for things on and off campus. I say with 100% confidence that this is a school of change-makers. Berkeley students aren’t just concerned with getting an A in Bio1B; they’re worried about curing terminal illnesses. They’re not joining student government for something to put on a resume; they’re joining to fight for basic needs security and stop tuition hikes. Whether it’s composting, joining a protest or creating a startup, Berkeley students are constantly improving the world around themselves.
I’ve had a pretty tough time at Berkeley, and you probably will, too. At some point you’re probably going to be sitting in Moffitt around 2 a.m., cramming for a midterm, and you’re going to get so frustrated that you slump out of your chair and just, like, spread-eagle on the carpet. And in that moment, I want to challenge you to remember how your grandma cried when you told her that you’d be going to the number one public university in the whole world. Or that flutter of excitement you got when you realized that researcher that you’ve been watching on YouTube since you were 12 — they teach here!
The other question that I ask myself almost constantly is,“Why me?” Take a moment to know that your place in this stadium is intentional. Someone read 100,000 applications and decided that this school needed you. The self doubt and imposter syndrome hit pretty hard here. You might feel like this school was not built for you, and I want you to know that that makes it all the more incredible that you’re here. Among Nobel Laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners, Supreme Court justices, social movement organizers and change-makers, now there’s you. And that’s not an accident.