Campus & community, Campus news, Events at Berkeley

Pomp, famous speakers and dozens of events to celebrate UC Berkeley grads

By Ivan Natividad

students gather outside memorial stadium
(UC Berkeley photo by Keegan Houser)
students gather outside memorial stadium

To celebrate some 10,500 UC Berkeley students who are earning their degrees this month, individual academic departments and programs will hold nearly 90 separate graduation ceremonies in the days leading up to, and after, the May 13 all-campus commencement. (UC Berkeley image: Keegan Houser)

Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Wozniak; recently reinstated Rep. Justin Jones, a gun safety advocate from Tennessee; Ericka Huggins, a founding member of the Black Panther Party; and award-winning actor and Star Trek film star John Cho will be among the keynote speakers addressing students at graduation ceremonies being held this month at UC Berkeley.

Some 10,500 Berkeley students are projected to earn degrees in May. At the campuswide commencement on May 13 at California Memorial Stadium, approximately 30,000 students, their guests, faculty and staff are expected to attend. In addition to that event, there will be nearly 90 additional graduation ceremonies at Berkeley, held by individual academic departments and programs.

Steve Wozniak smiling in a suit

Steve Wozniak will address a crowd of nearly 30,000 at California Memorial Stadium on Saturday, May 13. (Image: John Underwood)

Wozniak, a Bay Area native and 1986 Berkeley alumnus , will speak at the May 13 commencement where he aims to give a humorous bent on what the future holds for graduates. He said he will share his “rules for life. … I also hope to give formulas for decisions that have helped me.”

Chancellor Carol Christ and this year’s top graduating senior, the University Medalist, will also address students at commencement, to congratulate them for an academic milestone they will remember for a lifetime.

Christ said that this year’s graduates “have shown remarkable resilience and perseverance throughout the pandemic and the challenges of recent years. Together, they found ways to grow as scholars while building an inclusive community.

”We look forward to celebrating them in the coming days. They certainly deserve it.”

Chancellor Carol Christ speaks at a podium

Chancellor Carol Christ speaking at last year’s commencement at California Memorial Stadium. (UC Berkeley image: Keegan Houser)

A family affair

For the first time, Berkeley will hold two separate ceremonies at the Greek Theatre — one on May 13, the other on May 14 — to honor Berkeley’s Chicanx and Latinx students. Nearly 600 Chicanx and Latinx undergraduates and 40 graduate students will participate in one of the two events, which will be presented in both English and Spanish.

Ibarra raising his hands with his parents at his side.

Berkeley graduate Alberto Ibarra and his parents attending last year’s Chicanx Latinx Graduation ceremony. His stole represents his Salvadorian and Mexican heritage. (Image: Courtesy of Alberto Ibarra)

This is nearly double the number of students who participated in last year’s Chicanx Latinx Graduation, said Berkeley Vice Chancellor of Equity and Inclusion Dania Matos, a reflection of the time and resources that staff, faculty and alumni have dedicated to growing the ceremony over the past 30 years.

The graduation event is also a testament to the success of Berkeley’s Latinx Thriving Initiatives and proof that Chicanx and Latinx communities are deeply embedded in Berkeley, said Matos. “And for communities to see themselves collectively celebrated, as UC Berkeley graduates and a part of the institution, becomes really important in their journey into our alumni community and beyond.”

“For many families, it’ll be the first and only time they get to visit the campus. So, we get to show them that the trust they put in us here at Berkeley was right,” said Matos. “The ceremony gives them all a chance to see themselves reflected here in a beautiful community that has supported their students. And it is only growing.”

Fabrizio Mejia, Berkeley’s associate vice chancellor for equity and inclusion, participated in the ceremony as an undergraduate in 1997. He said the event allows students to walk across the stage with their family members — a tradition that is touching for all who attend.

Latinx Graduation ceremony

The Chicanx Latinx Graduation this year will hold two separate ceremonies at the Greek Theatre for the first time. The ceremony has doubled in participants since last year’s celebration. (UC Berkeley image)

“At every single intersecting point that this institution has, we stand with our communities,” Mejia said. “The growth of this graduation is proof that the campus’s Latinx Thriving Initiatives have already had a visible impact on campus.”

Berkeley Chicanx Latinx Student Development Director Lupe Gallegos-Diaz said the ceremony was initially a grassroots effort that began in the early 1990s. She attributed the recent demand for the spring ceremony to new community spaces that have been created for Berkeley’s Chicanx and Latinx students on campus.

“This ceremony is a very community- and family-centered approach to graduation, so there is much more engagement,” Gallegos-Diaz said. “And for some of our students, this is the only graduation they attend. So, at the end of the day, it’s not just the students who have accomplished something, it is the entire family that feels they have, too.”

“Uniquely intimate ceremonies”

a group photo of people in graduation caps and traditional native american wear

UC Berkeley’s American Indian Graduate Program commencement celebration in 2019. (Image: Irene Yi, courtesy of AIGP)

While smaller in size, the departmental and program ceremonies held in the days leading up to, and after, Saturday’s all-campus commencement are uniquely intimate for students and their families, said Matos, who will speak at the history department’s graduation on May 16.

John Cho headshot

Cho got into acting as a Berkeley English major when he spontaneously filled in for someone who had dropped out of a play. (Image: Courtesy of UC Berkeley Arts and Design)

Berkeley alumnus and award-winning American actor John Cho will address English department graduates during a ceremony at Zellerbach Auditorium on May 16 at 9 a.m. On May 14, the astronomy department will welcome 2006 Nobel laureate John Mather as a keynote speaker, and Pulitzer Prize-winning science journalist Natalie Wolchover is scheduled to speak at the physics department’s graduation.

Several government officials will speak at ceremonies across campus, including California Assemblymember Phil Ting, who will appear at the Department of Ethnic Studies graduation on May 18, and Tennessee State Rep. Justin Jones, who will address graduates from the Goldman School of Public Policy on May 14.

U.S. Federal Reserve Board Gov. Lisa Cook, a 1997 Berkeley alumna and the first Black woman to serve in her position, will speak at the economics department’s ceremony on May 15.

a group of grads walks outside memorial stadium wiht a sign saying baccalaureate

Graduates process from Maxwell Field to the Greek Theatre during the College of Engineering’s baccalaureate commencement last year. (Berkeley Engineering image: Adam Lau)

Other notable graduation ceremonies and speakers will include:

  • Black Graduation , held by the Department of African American Studies at Zellerbach Hall on May 20 with a speech from Ericka Huggins, a founding member of the Black Panther Party.
  • Corey Johnson, a Pulitizer Prize-winning investigative journalist and co-founder of the Ida B. Wells Society. He will speak at a ceremony for Berkeley Journalism students at the North Gate Hall courtyard on May 13.
  • Hon. Jon S. Tigar of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. He will speak to Berkeley Law graduates at the Greek Theatre on May 12.
  • Visa’s Chief Marketing Officer Frank Cooper III, and Toast’s Chief Financial Officer Elena Gomez. They will serve as Haas School of Business commencement speakers on May 16 and May 19. A third commencement for Haas MBA for Executives program graduates will be held on June 3, with PayPal Venture’s Lisha Bell as keynote speaker.
  • Google Senior Vice President Prabhakar Raghavan will address students in the Division of Computing, Data Science and Society at their ceremony on May 18.
  • Rausser College of Natural Resources will hold a commencement at the Greek Theatre on May 14. The keynote speaker will be alumna and award-winning changemaker and humanitarian Komal Ahmad.
  • College of Engineering undergraduate and graduate students will celebrate their program commencement on May 17 with keynote speakers Barbara Humpton, Siemens Corporation CEO and president; and Dave Gilboa, co-founder of Warby Parker. A third ceremony for doctorate graduates will be on May 18 with GE Digital Senior Vice President Colin Parris as the speaker.

Information on all academic department graduation ceremonies can be found here.