UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ gave the keynote address at the 2021 winter commencement. Her prepared marks are below.
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.
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 the fact that we are able to be here, together, in person — without a blessed Zoom screen in sight — and to thank your parents, siblings, relatives and friends who have supported and stood by you through thick and thin. Let us take this opportunity to express appreciation for our 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 must admit that I feel a particularly close connection to your class. I began my tenure as chancellor in the summer of 2017, just as most of you were beginning your academic careers on our campus. I would venture to say that we have, together, come a long way, and we have learned a lot in the process, with some of the most important lessons coming from a real-life curriculum no one ever anticipated.
We learned, and, sadly, re-learned, what have been painful lessons about socio-economic inequities and the persistence of racism in our country. I know that too many families from across our country — and across this room —have been hit far too hard by the pandemic and its economic and emotional consequences. I am also certain that, like me, many of you have been deeply moved by how a series of tragic events have darkened our days with senseless violence, insidious racism and anti-democratic unrest.
We also learned about the importance of community and human connection. 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 long months of challenges and uncertainty. In so many ways your resilience is a reflection of our campus as a whole and that resilience is the reason why, in so many ways, our university is emerging from these extraordinary times stronger than ever and I believe the same will hold true for you.
It wasn’t long after I graduated from college that the wonderful Canadian musician Joni Mitchell sang about how, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” And, after the many months when it was so difficult to gather and connect with the ones we love, to engage in, and benefit from all that a university and its community have to offer, we have come to more deeply understand, appreciate, and value so many things we once took for granted.
We have also learned about the power and meaning of 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.
These lessons, I believe, are a gift we will treasure and benefit from for the rest of our lives. Now, as you stand at one of life’s great crossroads, take a deep breath, pause, reflect and consider the road you have travelled and all that you can and will carry with you from Berkeley on the road ahead.
And, as you venture forth, know that you have left your mark on our university and I have no doubt that we are the better for it. At Berkeley, the student voice is valued and influential and your desire to participate in, and influence, the campus’s course, in the classroom and beyond, was strong and compelling. When, in 2017, we were engulfed in controversy and conflict regarding Free Speech, students played a key role in our decision to organize a Free Speech Commission whose mission was to engage the entire campus community in a discussion about our campus’s legacy, the importance of diversity of perspective, and the tension that can exist between freedom of expression and our commitment to a community where all feel welcome and a true sense of belonging. We emerged with new appreciation for freedom of expression, as well as its individual and communal costs. For that, I thank you.
Through your elected representatives, your clubs and organizations, your volunteer work, your participation on committees and your advocacy, you have helped to fuel our wide-ranging efforts to enroll a more diverse student body that is truly reflective of the state we serve. For that, I thank you.
And, you backed that up with more steadfast work and advocacy to make our campus and its community more welcoming, inclusive and supportive, through, for example, the establishment of new student community spaces including the Latinx Student Resource Center, the Native Community Center, the Black Wednesday Wall, the Disability Cultural Center, new spaces for bridges and QARC, and a northside meditation space.
On the academic front, your unquenchable thirst for learning led us to expand undergraduate participation in research, your desire to translate your education into beneficial technologies and services accelerated our establishment of programs to aid and abet your innovation and entrepreneurship, and absent your strong intellectual embrace of emerging fields of inquiry we would have never established our new, ground-breaking Division of Computing, Data Science, and Society.
Thank you for all of these advances and improvements, for holding us accountable, for ensuring we never forget that we are here to serve our students, our state and the greater good.
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. As you have seen, these unprecedented times offer unprecedented opportunities for learning about ourselves, our values, 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.
Now, more than ever, the world needs all that you have to offer as the beneficiaries of a world-class Berkeley education and experience. I am confident that by virtue of what you will carry from your classes, our community, and our shared experiences, 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 loves to challenge the status quo.
- You know that conventional wisdom can always be challenged…that there is 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 changemakers 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. Roll on, you Bears!