Chancellor Carol Christ speaks at 2018 spring commencement amid protests

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Over 5,000 graduating students and 30,000 friends and family members gathered in California Memorial Stadium to witness the UC Berkeley class of 2018’s graduation on Friday.

The ceremony began at 10 a.m. as students filed onto the field and were received by cheering supporters, relatives and the traditional “Pomp and Circumstance” graduation march song.

After opening remarks from Chancellor Carol Christ and the distribution of the distinguished teaching awards, the University Medal, which is given to “the most distinguished graduating senior,” was awarded to Freja Ekman.

Christ then further addressed the audience at length, beginning with an apology for U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris’ absence in support of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, or AFSCME Local 3299.

“I am sorry she could not be here, but I understand her decision not to attend this ceremony as the University of California continues important contract negotiations with one of its labor unions,” Christ said at the event, referencing the union strike that occurred earlier last week.

Christ then listed “momentous” events that have shaped the class of 2018’s experience. She mentioned the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton and her “stunning defeat,” the Black Lives Matter movement and the #MeToo movement, as well as catastrophic disasters such as hurricanes in Puerto Rico and wildfires up and down California.

“These events have motivated national discussions about wealth, privilege and our country’s responsibility to aid victims and help rebuild communities,” Christ said to the crowd.

She then lauded student efforts — which have made campus “richer and better” — such as the Black Student Union’s work to create the Fannie Lou Hamer Black Resource Center and the student push to improve the campus’s policy and procedure for handling sexual assault and harassment cases.

Christ then implored graduates to carry forward with them several qualities of character: “the capacity for empathy,” “the ability to voice what you believe,” “the capacity for moral reasoning” and a “sense of public responsibility.”

“A degree from Berkeley is a privilege, and with it comes responsibility of using your education to contribute to a society that needs your energy, your intelligence and your help,” she said at commencement.

During Christ’s speech, over two hundred students stood and faced toward the crowd, including Edgar Godinez, who said he was standing “in solidarity with union workers protesting unfair wages.” Other students held green fabrics and raised fists towards the crowd.

AFSCME Local 3299 also protested outside Memorial Stadium during commencement against the UC’s forced contract.

After her keynote speech, Christ formally awarded degrees to the graduating class of 2018, which prompted a flurry of hat throws.

“I feel great. It’s been four years — I’m finally done,” said Pedran Mutinsetfat, who graduated with a degree in integrative biology. “I have been following a schedule for so long, and now I have to figure out how to live in the real world.”

Contact Jarrett Visher at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @Jarrett_Visher.