Top UC Berkeley graduate: ‘Our world is ready for all the great things we will do’

Leyla Kabuli spoke to graduates during Saturday’s commencement ceremony. (UC Berkeley video)

Leyla Kabuli, a senior graduating in music and in electrical engineering and computer sciences, is the winner of the 2021 University Medal, given each year to the top graduating senior. She gave the following speech at Saturday’s virtual commencement ceremony:

Thank you very much, Chancellor Christ.

And many thanks to the Awards Committee for this opportunity to express gratitude on behalf of Berkeley’s Class of 2021 to our families, friends and professors. Each of you played a vital role in helping us reach this educational milestone.

It has been a very big honor and great inspiration to be a Cal student during the leadership of the first woman chancellor, and of the first woman dean of the College of Engineering, and during the celebration of 150 years of women at Cal. How exciting it is that we celebrate our graduation just a few months after the first woman on the UC Berkeley faculty won a Nobel Prize!

Berkeley has always been special to me. All through my childhood, I hoped to be a Cal student one day. I still have my Golden Bear sweatshirts of all toddlers’ and kids’ sizes; in fact, they have been repurposed into a collection of nine blue-and-gold pillows stuffed with foam filling.

Ever since I got accepted four years ago, I felt extremely fortunate to be a part of this inclusive environment. Here, the unparalleled expertise of the faculty combined with the richly diverse backgrounds and interests of the students results in a wide scope of course offerings and unique research opportunities. Where else could you take an excellent digital signal processing course in electrical engineering and also learn a variety of instruments from a Javanese Gamelan master? Where else could you play drums in the Brazilian music course in Morrison Hall and then run uphill to Cory for an EECS lab within four minutes? Where else could you meet students from every corner of the world and make lifetime friendships with the leaders of tomorrow?

Kabuli in a lab in the Hearst Memorial Mining Building.

“The Class of 2021 has unforgettable pre-pandemic memories made on our beautiful campus. But we also had to deal with uncertainties and extreme challenges,” Leyla Kabuli told graduates. (UC Berkeley photo by Brittany Hosea-Small)

The Class of 2021 has unforgettable pre-pandemic memories made on our beautiful campus. But we also had to deal with uncertainties and extreme challenges. We witnessed events that future generations will read about in history books. Nothing could have prepared us for the unanticipated sacrifices and losses that many among us suffered. Life surprised us. But we responded by focusing more intensely on our goals. With support and encouragement from our friends and faculty, we built confidence to make progress during devastating times that paralyzed the whole world. We chose to act with compassion and caring for the well-being of our community. We proved our resilience and demonstrated the unstoppable power of our determination to succeed together. We emerged with a deeper sense of purpose and stronger desire to work for the greater good.

Some of the most difficult times in history catalyzed important advances.”

Some of the most difficult times in history catalyzed important advances in science and influential changes that promote social justice. Artists created remarkable masterpieces under distressing circumstances; many composers converted their struggles into creative energy, leaving us the gift of beautiful musical works. Now, it is our turn to concentrate on what positive outcome may result from our experiences. With a sharper awareness of the importance of equitable access to resources, to primary health care and to education, we will work more devotedly to make our world a better place for the vulnerable in society, a fair place with opportunities and an equal place with justice for everyone.

The Berkeley inside us goes wherever we go.”

As we transition to the next educational opportunity, the next level of service to our community, the next project that will carry the watermark of a Berkeley graduate, we know that the Berkeley inside us goes wherever we go. We are committed and energized to achieve the unexpected, the exceptional and the unselfish. And our world is ready for all the great things we will do.

Thank you, professors; you did a great job teaching us!

Thank you, parents; you did a great job raising us!

Congratulations, everyone!