People, Campus & community, Events at Berkeley

Student president: At Berkeley, ‘you can live your ancestor’s wildest dreams’

By Public Affairs

Chaka Tellem laughs as he talks to a friend
First-year student Chaka Tellem plans on majoring in political economy and business administration with a minor in race and law. (UC Berkeley photo by Irene Yi)
“It’s essential that we use this time to break down barriers, to refute stereotypes and create the blueprints for the next generation,” UC Berkeley’s student-body president told new students on Thursday. (UC Berkeley video)

ASUC President Chaka Tellem gave the following remarks at the 2021 new-student convocation:

Thank you. Hello everyone, and welcome incoming Golden Bears. My name is Chaka Tellem, and I’m honored to serve as your student body president.

The tumultuous nature of politics, the pandemic and national movements has made your being here, striving for higher education, a more impressive feat than ever before. I can say without a doubt that remote learning has not been easy for many of us. I mean, when I first came to Cal, I didn’t expect to be spending most of my time in breakout rooms.

Even the strongest of us have struggled with acclimating to a reality in constant flux, where everything we dreamed of experiencing was lost, from graduations to senior proms. Yet, with meaningful sacrifice comes even greater reward, starting with some of the best years of your life here at the University of California, Berkeley.

While each of your experiences are unique, your capacity to excel amidst unprecedented adversity has brought you here today, a commonality that bonds us all. Let that be the driving force in your discovery of the person you are and the scholar you hope to be.

I still remember sitting in my dorm room that first night in Unit 1 with no idea of what the next day had in store. I remember the swirling uncertainty, scrolling through Instagram trying to put names to faces.

Looking back, I still remember being shocked at how accomplished my peers were.

At some point this year, when someone mentions a nonprofit they’ve started or an office they’ve interned for, you may feel like you don’t belong, like your acceptance was a mistake.

I understand where that imposter syndrome can come from. After all, for some of us, falling victim to the prison system is more likely than rising to a place like Berkeley.

That very reason is what makes our presence here all the more necessary.

Regardless of whether you’re a first-generation college student or a fifth-generation legacy, you belong here.

Who would’ve thought a Texan woman marginalized by Jim Crow segregation would have a grandson who would one day become the President of the best public university in the world.

Chaka and his friend Kai sitting near the Campanile

Tellem (left) is the elected leader of UC Berkeley’s undergraduate students. (UC Berkeley photo by Irene Yi)

Berkeley is a place where you can live your ancestor’s wildest dreams.

While we are working to build a better Berkeley and improve things like equity, access and belonging, what makes our university is its diversity. It’s essential that we use this time to break down barriers, to refute stereotypes and create the blueprints for the next generation.

In college — and especially at a place like Cal — it’s easy to look at your peers as competition, the people you have to one up. But the last and most crucial thing I want to leave you with today, is the importance of working together.

As student body president, my administration and I will do everything in our power to make your lives easier, safer and more fulfilling. But, I won’t be there when you’re stuck in the library on the final question of your Econ problem set or cramming for your computer science midterm. But the people you meet in the coming weeks will be. They’ll be right there beside you, adding their piece to this beautiful mosaic.

Now, when I feel like I did that first night in Unit 1, wondering what the future will bring, it’s not with uncertainty, but excitement.

You are now unequivocally a part of the Berkeley family. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

Thank you for having me. I’m looking forward to seeing you all on campus, and say hi if you see me. Fiat lux, and Go Bears!