Chancellor Carol Christ gave the following speech to UC Berkeley graduates during Saturday’s virtual commencement ceremony:
Let me begin by offering my deepest and most heartfelt congratulations to you, the members of this remarkable and resilient graduating class. Though the fates saw fit to place unprecedented and unforeseen challenges in your path, you kept your eyes on the prize, you persevered, and you have prevailed.
The successful completion of an undergraduate degree at Berkeley is challenging enough in the best of times. Given what you have overcome, your presence here today is testimony to a truly remarkable accomplishment. We could not be prouder.
In so many ways, your resilience is a reflection of our campus as a whole. Over the course of the last year, we have seen a remarkable coming together of students, faculty, staff and alumni who have supported each other and our university during these long months of challenges and uncertainty. That resilience is the reason why, in so many ways, our university is emerging from this extraordinary year stronger than ever, and I believe the same will hold true for you.
While this is a day to celebrate your achievement, there is no time like now to express gratitude to and for everyone who has helped you arrive at one of life’s great milestones. So, let us also take a moment to celebrate, and thank your parents, grandparents, siblings, relatives and friends who have supported and stood by you through thick and thin. Let us take this opportunity to express respect and appreciation for this university’s extraordinary faculty and staff, who have risen to meet and surmount unprecedented challenges in order to sustain Berkeley’s mission and excellence.
I know it took a lot of hard work on your part to get here. I know that too many families have been hit far too hard by the pandemic and its economic and emotional consequences. I am also certain that, like me, you have been deeply moved by how COVID-19 has highlighted and amplified deep racial and socioeconomic disparities in our country, even as too many of our days have been darkened by senseless violence, insidious racism and anti-democratic unrest.
At the same time, there is ample reason for hope. Behavioral and social science teach us that unsettled times of change and transformation also have the potential to facilitate personal and societal learning, growth and adaptation. The things we carry through life are accumulated over time and through experience, and I am certain that the things you will carry from your college careers will be unlike anything any previous class has known.
We are living in a historic moment when everything is shifting.”
We are living in a historic moment when everything is shifting about us in ways that will have a profound impact upon the future. 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 and for you, our newest alumni.
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. We have before us extraordinary individual and collective opportunities to extract profound meaning and valuable lessons learned from all that we are witnessing and experiencing. These unprecedented times offer unprecedented opportunities for learning about ourselves, the communities and causes we draw strength, meaning and support from and about the role of our university in our lives, our nation and the world.
It wasn’t long after I graduated from college that the wonderful Canadian musician Judy Collins sang about how “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” And now, after many months when it was so difficult to gather and connect with the ones we love, to travel without fear or encumbrance, to engage in and benefit from all that a university and its community have to offer, we can more deeply understand, appreciate and value so many things we once took for granted.
As you stand at one of life’s great crossroads, take a deep breath.”
That, I hope and believe, is a gift you will treasure and benefit from for the rest of your lives. Now, as you stand at one of life’s great crossroads, take a deep breath, pause, reflect and consider the road you have traveled and all of that you can and will carry with you from Berkeley on the road ahead.
I know that one of the wonderful qualities you all have in common with each other — and this university — is a commitment to advancing the greater good. Now, more than ever, our communities, our country, the world, need all that you have to offer as the beneficiaries of a world-class Berkeley education and experience. I am confident that you are uniquely prepared for what awaits you:
You have been taught how to learn by some of the world’s greatest teachers.
You value the truth and know it must be protected.
You believe in science.
You have been immersed in a culture that has nothing but disdain for the status quo.
You know that conventional wisdom must always be challenged, that there must always be a better way.
You know how to thrive — not just survive — amidst diversity of origins, identities and perspectives.
You emerge from a campus culture shaped by thousands of alumni who fought, and fight, for justice, equity and inclusiveness.
You are change-makers at a time when change is sorely needed.
You are able to adapt and persevere in the face of challenge and hardship.
I can only hope you share the gratitude I feel for these values, ideals and aspirations that form the foundation of all that Berkeley is and stands for.
May your years ahead be richly rewarding and fulfilling, and may you enjoy much happiness. Hold tight to all the things you carry from Berkeley, and may they always serve you — and the world around you — well.
We are immensely proud of what you have done, and even more, of who you will become.
Fiat lux, and Go Bears!