Chancellor Christ to new students: There is no place I’d rather be than Berkeley

A variety of Berkeley leaders, including Chancellor Carol Christ, welcomed new first-year and transfer students to Berkeley Friday morning. (UC Berkeley video)

Chancellor Carol Christ gave the following address during the 2020 new student convocation, a virtual, livestreamed welcome to UC Berkeley’s newest group of first-year and transfer students. The ceremony marked the kickoff of Golden Bear Orientation, the official welcome event for new UC Berkeley students. Watch the complete convocation ceremony here.

Hello, my name is Carol Christ, and as chancellor I have the great pleasure of formally—if virtually— welcoming you to the University of California, Berkeley. We are delighted to have you with us as we begin a fall semester unlike any other. I have nothing but respect and appreciation for your confidence in yourselves, as expressed in your decision to continue your education in these challenging times. And, we are humbled by your vote of confidence in this university…. in our ability to marshal Berkeley’s resources, to adapt, to innovate, to do all that we possibly can to support your dreams and aspirations. You may be in uncharted territory, but you are not alone.

Let us acknowledge and accept a fundamental truth: these times are without parallel in our lives. Like you, I long for, and impatiently wait for, the day when our lives return to normal. While these are difficult times for all of us, the pandemic has highlighted and amplified deep racial and socioeconomic disparities among members of our campus community and far beyond. As I have said many times in recent months, we may all be in the same storm, but we are most certainly not all in the same boat.

For this reason we developed our plans for this semester through an equity lens to ensure we are doing everything in our power to provide for equity of experience to identify and mitigate disparities and inequities among the members of the campus community…to ensure that every conceivable student support service is ready and able to provide you with what you need for your health, well-being, and academic success.

Like you, I long for, and impatiently wait for, the day when our lives return to normal.”

– Chancellor Carol Christ

For me, the start of the fall semester — this week of return and renewal — has always been among the most exhilarating of the year. I would walk around campus, thrilled by the energy, potential, promise invigorated by the arrival of our newest Golden Bears. This morning, beyond my window, lay a quiet campus the consequence of a situation that has challenged the most basic assumptions about higher education. The world of remote learning and work, of social distancing, bears scant resemblance to our ideas of what college life is meant to be. Place is important. The ties that bind us to each other are important. Actual community is important. Yet, I know Berkeley well. We are resilient and our community is strong. And from that springs my hope and confidence that we will rise to the occasion and find virtual ways to foster a true sense of belonging, of connection, of mutual support until we are together again.

Talk to our faculty, our administrators, our extended family of supportive alumni…and you will find no hint of defeat or despair. Over the course of the last five months, the response of our campus community to this crisis has been extraordinary. Many of our scientists have redirected their research programs to vanquishing COVID-19 and its impact on our lives. We devoted the summer to ensuring our remote instruction embodies best practices, investing resources in creating a “semester in the cloud,” and providing grants to teaching teams to develop remote versions of their courses. My colleagues in Student Affairs collaborated with many of you to adapt extra-curricular programs and student services for online delivery. In all this work, I see enormous creativity, dedication, and resilience.
At Berkeley, we are the changemakers. Drawing on our proud tradition of perseverance, we have come together to support and advance– with strength, creativity and resilience—our mission of education, research, and public service, and our collective commitment to changing the world for the better.

We are showing, I believe, how essential the public research university is to our country and our world.”

– Chancellor Carol Christ

We are showing, I believe, how essential the public research university is to our country and our world. Now more than ever humanity needs people who believe in science….in the notion of a greater good in justice, equity, diversity, inclusiveness and the truth. And these, of course, are the very values that form the foundation of all that Berkeley is and stands for. It is our collective responsibility to ensure it will always be so.

We also have a shared responsibility to respond to the three interlocking, complexly inter-related series of events—the pandemic, the economic disruption resulting from it, and urgent self-questioning about social justice and systemic racism. We are living in a historic moment when things are shifting about us in ways that will have a profound impact upon the future.

In an email to me earlier this summer, Biology Professor Fyodor Urnov quoted Tolkien: “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

And what we have been given, I believe, is a unique set of opportunities arising from the most historic, consequential moment in our lives….and there is no place better than Berkeley to make the most of it. This may be a perilous time, but so, too, is it a time of creative ferment and possibility and that is prime time for this public university. What animates Berkeley is our belief in, and commitment to individual and institutional agency the notion that through the discovery, development, dissemination and discussion of knowledge we can make the world a better place.

From these time-honored traits comes our intention to dedicate this year to an in-depth, clear-eyed exploration of social justice, racism and anti-Blackness. Through a series of lectures and discussions we will work to reckon with the lasting destruction wrought by the indelible stain of slavery on our nation’s past, and our continued failure to fully confront and destroy the plagues of racism and anti-Blackness in the present day. We will examine our own actions and environment at this university, and ask whether we truly provide the inclusiveness and social mobility we promise. While I am proud that this year’s incoming class is Berkeley’s most diverse in 30 years, there is no cause for self-congratulation or complacency. We must remain focused on building a campus community that truly represents the state and the world we serve, and allows every student to experience a true sense of belonging. The excellence of our university depends on diversity of thought and perspective, both of which are the result of, and profoundly enhanced by, the diversity of our campus community.

The virus has intertwined our individual fates. We are at the mercy of our collective ability to abide by the demands of the moment.”

– Chancellor Carol Christ

As students you can play an essential role in our quest for a diverse, equitable and inclusive community. For example, late last spring student-athletes on our women’s basketball team launched an initiative that has led to the formation of a new racial justice council. Working with students and staff, the council will help drive awareness and change on the team, in Cal Athletics and across the campus. We stand ready to support and facilitate similar, wonderful efforts. I urge and invite you all to find new ways to advance the causes and values you believe in.

To date, our every action in response to the pandemic has been grounded in science, informed by the knowledge and advice of our epidemiologists, and consistent with the dictates of local and state public health officials. The virus has intertwined our individual fates. We are at the mercy of our collective ability — locally, regionally and nationally – to abide by the demands of the moment and maintain social distancing to wear masks as directed to follow instructions for hygiene to treat others as we, ourselves, wish to be treated. Yet, even with full compliance it is not possible to predict what the protection of the public’s health–and our own – might require. I am learning to expect the unexpected and can only promise that we will respond in the future as we have in the past: With your health and well-being front and center…with communications both timely and accurate…and with compassion and support for all who are in need.

I believe there is no false optimism in my conviction that this virus will be vanquished, that there will be a day after. I hope you will take full advantage of all that is on offer so you are ready to do your part when that day comes. I believe that Berkeley is uniquely equipped to meet the demands and opportunities of these times. And, I know there is no place I would rather be physically or virtually in good times and bad.

To our newest students, you light the way to our collective future, and I am so glad you’re here.

Fiat lux and Go Bears!

Read more about a start to Berkeley’s fall semester unlike any other: