‘Never stop learning’ student Han Na Choi tells fellow graduates

Graduate Han Na Choi spoke to graduates at Saturday’s 2019 winter commencement ceremony. (UC Berkeley video by Educational Technology Services)

“Never stop learning,” graduate Han Na Choi told graduates during her speech at Saturday’s winter commencement. “You came here to learn, and I encourage you to keep learning when you leave. Here I will provide you with the classic Dr. Seuss quote that comes with every graduation speech: ‘The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go!’ Don’t put the brakes on your education. Step on the pedal and accelerate your learning. Stay hungry, be humble and intentionally seek out new knowledge.”

Here are Choi’s prepared remarks from the winter commencement ceremony:

Chancellor Christ, speaker Bob Haas, parents, friends and family, welcome!

And graduates of 2019: Congratulations! You made it.

We entered into this university wide-eyed and mystified, expecting and fearing the big changes that would take place in our lives. Throughout college, we may have experienced losses, or Ls, for those in the know. Like the L we took when PG&E cut off campus power during fire season. Or the L we took when we got our first computer science midterm back in 61A.

However, through our Ls, we have grown in numerous ways, and I would like to share with you a piece of my journey.

This past summer, I went to Kabul, Afghanistan with my Berkeley Christian fellowship to work with local children and university students. I experienced many things, starting from the moment I stepped off the plane and felt the heat and dust hit my scarf-wrapped head. I walked past brown buildings and marveled at the size of the long, oval-shaped melons and the scent of beef kebab filling the air.

One day, I struck up a conversation with a teen girl, who noticed I looked a bit different. I said “Chetor asten,” which is Dari for, “How are you?” After some chitchat, she told me her birthday was approaching, and I gleefully said, “Let’s celebrate together!”

So, a few of my teammates from America and I traveled to a village on the outskirts of Kabul a few days later to celebrate Narges and share our culture of birthday parties. Her family unexpectedly invited us to stay for two days, something Americans rarely do for people we don’t know. As her whole extended family joined us, we made them party hats and birthday banners. In return, they taught us how to make “Ashok,” Afghan dumplings, and showed us meticulous methods for embroidering traditional Afghan designs. We recognized that we could both learn from each other and became friends.

Before flying 28 hours to Afghanistan, I thought I would be educating the people about Western social values and ideologies, and yet I gained so many experiences that have given my life clear direction. I discovered my career path in public health, the importance of service and equity, and the beauty of living amongst strangers in a different land. I learned that you can live with less, and that refugees are people just like us with everyday wants and needs. Narges jumped with excitement during her party, and her mother smiled with joy when we started dancing in the middle of the night. All of us, including this family, desire to be seen, to be heard. Living abroad showed me three new L’s that I hope we all leave with today — to learn, to live, and to love others.

The first L is to learn.

Never stop learning. You came here to learn, and I encourage you to keep learning when you leave. Here I will provide you with the classic Dr. Seuss quote that comes with every graduation speech: “The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go!” Don’t put the brakes on your education. Step on the pedal and accelerate your learning. Stay hungry, be humble, and intentionally seek out new knowledge.

The next L is to live.

You have been given the gift of one precious life. Live it fully, and make it your own. Nobody else is going to pursue your dreams of creating that startup with bitcoin, launching a new body-positive fashion line, or starting higher education schools for women in Afghanistan. Life is constantly shifting, so breathe, and applaud yourselves for living bravely.

The last L is for love.

A friend once told me that love is the fifth dimension. Another said it’s the feeling you get when someone offers to buy you boba.

At Berkeley, we might have fallen in love with a significant other … or the llamas on Memorial Glade … or the spirit and the win of this fall’s Big Game. Go Bears!

I believe we are born to be loved and to love. … Jesus said, “Love your neighbors. Love your enemies.” Build connections with those around you, whether that’s your neighbor across the street, across the border in Mexico, or across the oceans in Afghanistan. We have received the power to Love. So, act with patience and kindness. Rejoice in each other’s joys. Forgive each other when things get hard. and Make sacrifices. As others have sacrificed themselves for us to be here today, may we also take the bold step of offering our lives to share the power to love for all.

Fellow Bears, may we grow with each new L that comes our way, and strive to Learn, Live, and Love our neighbors and our enemies in the ever-expanding light of Berkeley. Fiat Lux. Thank you and to the class of 2019, congratulations! We did it!

Related Berkeley News content: