“Now, on the cusp of Life After College — a phrase I always imagine in all caps — you enter a world that is both full of incredible possibility as well as rife with intractable problems,” Chancellor Carol Christ told 650 graduates at Saturday’s winter commencement during her opening remarks, shared below. “Problems that are pervasive, that have many dimensions, that span national borders, that don’t care about partisan lines. But I know you will not retreat from those challenges. You’ll face them head-on — just as you’ve been doing here at Cal.”
Proud parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, children, and other family and friends of our graduates — welcome to the University of California, Berkeley.
Welcome to the many dedicated faculty, staff, alumni, and honored guests who are with us today — including our keynote speaker, Robert D. Haas, from the class of 1964.
And welcome, especially, to those we have gathered here to celebrate: the members of UC Berkeley’s extraordinary graduating Class of 2019.
Sitting here, you all are no doubt experiencing a mix of relief, elation, wonder, and apprehension. But in addition to all that, I hope you hold a keen sense of accomplishment, for you have completed a demanding course of study at the nation’s best public university. Today, you join and renew the long line of alumni reaching back 151 years whose lives are forever intertwined with this institution. Today, you become one of nearly 500,000 living alumni world-wide who can proudly call themselves UC Berkeley graduates.
The entire Cal community is proud of your achievements, but today, no one is prouder than the family and friends who have stood by you with their love, understanding, and support. Let’s have a round of applause for them.
Members of the Class of 2019, you have come through Berkeley at an historic time in our nation and the world.
Your class saw the strongest woman presidential candidate in U.S. history … ultimately delivered a stunning defeat, in an election that upended American politics. You’ve since witnessed the most pitched political battles we’ve seen in decades — over taxes, Supreme Court nominees, election meddling, trade deals, a border wall, and even impeachment.
In your time here, the national conversation has been framed by urgent and probing issues of race, class, justice, and equality … as the Black Lives Matter movement challenged institutional racism in law enforcement, as the #MeToo movement toppled abusive men in positions of power, and as a new and more diverse slate of elected officials took office.
While you’ve been on campus, concerns about cybersecurity, changes in the media we consume, and questions about privacy rights have asked us to reconsider our relationships to now-ubiquitous new technology and modes of communication.
While at Berkeley, you saw people and nations spring into action to respond to humanitarian crises in Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen, yet also saw disdain for immigrants and refugees take hold here and around the world. You saw acts of terror that renewed disputes about gun rights. You saw natural disasters in South Asia, Puerto Rico, California, and the Amazon, and the discussions about wealth, power, and responsibility that accompanied them. You saw a regime change in the UK over Brexit. You saw protests in the streets of Hong Kong. You saw both setbacks and steps forward in our global response to the existential threat of climate change.
UC Berkeley has always been part of the public sphere, and many of these events touched our campus, or had analogues here. It is a defining quality of our students that you do not sit idly by when you see struggle or injustice, whether in the larger world or locally. You reflect on the issues at hand, consider solutions, and confront problems in all their complexity, and with all their deep and enduring difficulty.
As surely as this institution has left its mark you, then, you have left your mark on Berkeley. For when you saw the need for change here, you seized it — and our university is richer and better for your efforts.
It was your classmates in the Black Student Union who were behind the creation of the Fannie Lou Hamer Resource Center and the ones who helped craft the African American Initiative, which is now working to improve our campus climate for black students. It was the work of survivors and student advocates among you who helped this university look at how it handles cases of sexual assault and harassment, and make improvements. You modeled strength and resolve in support of our undocumented student population as they were villainized by national leaders. You pushed our institution to put sustainability at the fore, making us the largest university to commit to 100% clean energy. Your advocacy in Sacramento helped legislators better value our institution; your work through bridges recruitment and retention centers helped bring in and bring up those from backgrounds historically underrepresented on college campuses; and your organizing helped create the Berkeley Basic Needs Center. You helped us learn how we might reconcile a commitment to community alongside a belief in the university’s role as a public forum, open even to viewpoints we might find abhorrent … and you joined us in efforts to use dialogue, not violence, to bridge the partisan divide.
I do not believe that Berkeley is a bubble, as it is often called, but I do feel that in this campus we share a small and bounded world that each of us can influence, shape and make different by what we do and say. And you have not been shy to do so.
Now, on the cusp of Life After College — a phrase I always imagine in all caps — you enter a world that is both full of incredible possibility as well as rife with intractable problems … problems that are pervasive, that have many dimensions, that span national borders, that don’t care about partisan lines. But I know you will not retreat from those challenges. You’ll face them head-on — just as you’ve been doing here at Cal.
Graduates: Congratulations on your achievements, thank you for working in partnership to help Berkeley become the place we wish it to be, and welcome to the next chapter of your lives.
May the education you have received here serve not just yourselves but your society well. May your years ahead be richly rewarding and fulfilling, and may you enjoy much happiness. The world is now yours to shape — make it a place of grace, justice, and beauty. Good luck, and Go Bears!