Rep. Barbara Lee to give keynote speech at Winter 2020 Commencement

UC Berkeley graduates won’t converge in person at the Class of 2020 December Commencement — yet another iconic rite hobbled by the wrath of COVID-19 — but excited students are virtually lining up to hear the keynote speech from U.S. Rep. and Berkeley alumna Barbara Lee.

Lee, who has served in office for nearly 25 years, representing the district that covers most of northern Alameda County, was the perfect choice this year for students who have endured a global pandemic, a bruising U.S. presidential election and a national reckoning on racial and social justice, said Megan Wiener, president of the Senior Class Council, the group responsible for ensuring that student voices weigh into the selection of the commencement speaker.

Barbara Lee smiling with American flag in the background

(Photo courtesy of U.S. House of Representatives)

“(Barbara Lee) embodies the ideal of Berkeley and its students. She is hardworking and passionate about what she does,” Wiener said. “I hope her message to us will be a reminder of just how meaningful it is to earn a Berkeley degree.”

Lee received her master’s degree in social work in 1975. She was a staff member for U.S. Rep. Ron Dellums, as well as a member of the California State Assembly and the California State Senate, before entering the U.S. House of Representatives.

“It is a great honor to speak to graduates of my alma mater during the winter 2020 commencement ceremony,” Lee said. “During these challenging times, it is so important that we come together to celebrate these students and their accomplishments, as well as those who have supported, encouraged and helped them along the way. These UC Berkeley graduates are the leaders who will take on the most serious challenges facing humanity today: racial injustice, the climate crisis and the pandemic that has caused so much hardship this year, to name just a few. With an education from this incredible university, I know they can succeed.”

The commencement is planned for 10 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 19. In addition to Lee, the graduates will hear taped messages from Chancellor Carol Christ and a student speaker. The all-virtual ceremony will also include the singing of the National Anthem, a land acknowledgement and a rousing rendition of “Hail to California,” followed by the conferral of degrees, said Maya Goehring-Harris, chief organizer of the ceremony and associate director of external relations and the Office of Protocol for Berkeley’s University Development and Alumni Relations.

Student Megan Wiener smiling

Student Megan Wiener, president of the Senior Class Council, helped in getting student perspectives during the commencement speaker selection process. (Photo courtesy of Megan Wiener)

Students will be able to click on their personalized slides, where they can record a 30-second message of appreciation for their parents, primary caregivers and family. There, students will also see their photos, major(s) and degree(s). Using a Snapchat filter, students can also film themselves in a cartoon cap and gown, Goehring-Harris added.

The ceremony is open to the public and will be closed-captioned.

Wiener, who majored in legal studies and psychology, said that the ceremony won’t be as grandiose as in-person commencements of years past, but she has made peace with the reality of the moment, and she hopes the virtual commencement will still allow graduates the opportunity to celebrate their accomplishments.

“I will miss getting to throw my cap into the air with fellow graduates,” Wiener said. “All-virtual is less than ideal, but anything else is just not safe.”