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In times of crisis, 2022 University Medal finalists summoned resilience, hope

By Edward Lempinen

four informal portraits, clockwise from top left: Hari Srinivasan; Claire Rider; Claire Beckstaff; and Jonah Lounds
The four finalists for the 2022 University Medal (clockwise from top left): Hari Srinivasan; Claire Rider; Jonah Lounds; and Claire Beckstoffer. (Photo montage by Melani King, UC Berkeley)
four informal portraits, clockwise from top left: Hari Srinivasan; Claire Rider; Claire Beckstaff; and Jonah Lounds

The four finalists for the 2022 University Medal (clockwise from top left): Hari Srinivasan; Claire Rider; Jonah Lounds; and Claire Beckstoffer. (Photo montage by Melani King, UC Berkeley)

Undergraduate students typically start their university years expecting the greatest challenges will come in the classroom or the lab, but the Class of 2022 also had to work through a pandemic, natural disasters and historic social turmoil.

These years have demanded focus and resilience, and those strengths are embodied in this year’s University Medal Winner Anjika Pai and in the four finalists: Claire Beckstoffer, Jonah Lounds, Claire Rider and Hari Srinivasan. Even in the most challenging conditions, all have demonstrated an inspired commitment to scholarship and service.

The University Medal was established 151 years ago, in 1871, three years after the University of California was founded. Candidates must have achieved a GPA of 3.96 or higher while overcoming significant challenges and making a positive impact on the lives of other people.

This year’s finalists:

Claire Beckstoffer (she/her)

Claire Beckstoffer with her graduation mantle, against a leafy background

Claire Beckstoffer (Photo by Hey Zinah Photography)

Hometown: San Francisco, California

Major: Environmental engineering science

Extracurricular: Project lead for UC Berkeley Engineers Without Borders.

What’s next? Fellowship with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, then an internship at Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam studying fungi.

What character or experience sets the Class of 2022 apart?

“As someone initially a part of the Class of 2021, I watched as the Class of 2022 transformed my major department from a small handful of people to an influx of students interested in connecting with each other, working together, and making each other feel welcome. When I think of the Class of 2022, I think of the desire to use our studies to impact the world positively and the initiative to create a community that makes other students feel at home as they work to effect change.”

What’s the single most important personal lesson you’ve learned in your time at Berkeley? “When I first came to Berkeley, I believed that being perceived as intelligent or worthy of respect hinged on the ability to never get something wrong. Through my many experiences at Berkeley, including being rejected from the College of Engineering when I first applied, I found that embracing the feeling of being lost can actually lead to forming new friendships and connections, gaining confidence in sharing my ideas, and learning how to acknowledge and grow from my mistakes, which I now believe is much more important than always having the right answer.”

Jonah Lounds (they/them)

Jonah Lounds in a room with many posters and pictures

Jonah Lounds (Photo courtesy of Jonah Lounds)

Hometown: Oakland, California

Major: History

Extracurricular: Musician — writing, recording and performance with current bands Cardio Star, Dao Jones and Bill Skins Fifth; volunteer at Oakland public schools; researcher with the Haas Scholars Program.

What’s next? A year off before pursuing a Ph.D. in either history or Slavic studies. In the interim, working as an instructional support specialist at an Oakland public elementary school. Continue building Russian-speaking skills while beginning to learn German.

What character or experience sets the Class of 2022 apart?

“We have all endured a global pandemic, as well as many other crises and injustices of varying magnitudes. Through all of this, we have been asked to adapt considerably, just to keep up with the unrelenting high pace and lofty standards of academic programming at our university. We have proven just how flexible and resilient we can be, but I hope we have also learned that we are all deserving of rest, joy and peace.”

You’ve worked with children in the Oakland schools, and you’ve studied children’s media from the former Soviet Union . W hat insights does this experience give you about the future?

“Like the Bolsheviks, I believe that the world we seek to build for an improved future must first be constructed for our children, so that they might be best prepared to manifest and protect this world in their adult lives. I have seen even young children eager to produce positive social change and engage in conversations previously tabooed or watered down for youngsters. This is something that gives me tremendous hope.”

Claire Rider

Claire Rider with her graduation mantle, against a leafy background

Claire Rider (Photo by Kelly Huang)

Hometown: Thousand Oaks, California

Majors: Anthropology and American studies

Extracurricular: Editor-in-chief of the Berkeley Political Review , president of BridgeUSA at Berkeley, head of policy at The Farmlink Project and member of Delta Gamma Sorority.

What’s next? Work as head of policy for The Farmlink Project , a national food justice nonprofit, before applying to law school.

What character or experience sets the Class of 2022 apart?

“The Class of 2022 overcame unprecedented challenges. Some of us entered UC Berkeley pre-pandemic, others right in the middle, but we all persevered through multiple virtual semesters before having the opportunity to redefine our newly reopened campus as leaders in our final year. We’ve reenergized our organizations, pioneered new communities and formed lifelong relationships while working to ensure that our new normal sees us making a better world.”

Thinking of your extracurricular work in politics and policy, what is the most important lesson you learned while at Berkeley?

“I actually learned my most valuable lesson at Berkeley outside of my political involvements, but that lesson has indelibly shaped the way I approach my policy work. I’ve really grown to admire the power of community; in my smaller, interdisciplinary majors, I was able to build personal, reciprocal relationships with instructors from all across the university. My professors felt like collaborators, as much as leaders. Now, my work with The Farmlink Project aims to prioritize stakeholder-driven change in our food systems. We all have a stake in the outcomes — we should all have a stake in deciding the actions.”

Hari Srinivasan

Hari Srinivasan, a psychology major and winner of the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans.

Hari Srinivasan (Photo courtesy of Hari Srinivasan)

Hometown: Cupertino, California

Major: Psychology

Extracurricular: Selected to serve on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee at the National Institutes of Health; vice-chair of the board at Autistic Self Advocacy Network; serves as Council of Autistic Advisors at the Autism Society of America; writer on autism for the Daily Californian .

What’s next? Ph.D. studies in neuroscience at Vanderbilt University

What character or experience sets the Class of 2022 apart?

“Resilience in readjusting back to a world of many new normals and new possibilities. For instance, it has been a bit harder to sit in a physical classroom now; it’s like many social skills built up over the years got lost in the void of a two-year lockdown. My motor system is in an uncertain state, at best, so there is a bit of a relearning curve involved for many like me. There are, however, many positives in our new normal, such as the possibility for remote or hybrid employment and education, which will benefit so many disabled folks like me.”

What has been a challenge you faced at Berkeley and how did you address it? “I loved that at Berkeley I was surrounded by non-judgmental peers who were open to inclusion, except they often didn’t know how to include, a major reason being they have not been exposed to many spoken communication-challenged autistics like me at the college level. My navigating Cal meant thinking of solutions from two ends — for me, personally, and strategies as to how others in that group could go about including me. An example is that I took on the introduction part in the debate team in professor David Presti’s introduction to neuroscience class instead of attempting the later rounds, which required more rapid responses. So I was part of the team, contributing, instead of just existing on the sidelines. This has obviously been easier in structured academic situations than in social settings.