Chancellor Carol Christ’s New Student Convocation highlights diversity, upholds free speech

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Karen Chow/Senior Staff

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Diversity was in the spotlight during Chancellor Carol Christ’s official welcome to the class of 2022 and the transfer class of 2020.

Held in a half-full Haas Pavilion on Monday afternoon, the ceremony — officially titled the Chancellor’s New Student Convocation — was the final event of the second annual weeklong Golden Bear Orientation. Christ’s 20-minute official address was one element of an hourlong program featuring performances by students and staff.

“For many of you, this place will be the most diverse community you’ve ever experienced,” Christ said in her speech. “I urge you to embrace such diversity and build connections with people who are far removed from what you know.”

In this year’s convocation, Christ cited the following statistics: The 8,800 incoming students span an age range of 15 to 63. They hail from 50 California counties, all 50 U.S. states and 70 countries. Just under a fifth are the first in their families to attend college.

Christ then turned her speech’s focus beyond age, background and experience to diversity of thought. Addressing concerns surrounding last year’s “Free Speech Week” and echoing sentiments — at times verbatim — that she shared at the previous convocation, Christ urged students to practice empathy and “fight hate speech with more speech.”

“Free speech, the public expression of sharply divergent points of view, is critical to diversity — fundamental, indeed, both to our democracy and to our mission as a university,” Christ said to the crowd.

Lili Karvalics, a campus junior exchange student from Glasgow, Scotland, said school pride voiced by surrounding immigrants and diverse student stories were surprising and exciting. Incoming campus freshman Samantha Khieu, however, said these details felt like “cherry-picking.”

“It was oriented toward making Berkeley look as diverse as possible, but when you really look at the statistics, it falls short,” Khieu said.

A campus male a cappella group called Noteworthy performed while new students filed in, followed by the Bearettes, a campus drill team working to create a dance space for people of color. Incoming campus freshman Gabriel Garcia belted the national anthem, and the California Golden Overtones — an all-female a cappella group — taught the incoming students “Hail to California,” the campus alma mater.

Two faculty members who performed at the campus’s 150th birthday celebration returned to the stage to welcome new students. Candace Johnson, a faculty member in voice and musicology, sang an unconventional rendition of Katy Perry’s “Roar,” studded with lyrics in operatic style. Campus editorial director José Rodríguez shared UC Berkeley’s personal significance to him as the son of an immigrant father who once worked as a janitor in Zellerbach Hall. He recited “Around the Bend, Strawberry Creek,” a poem he wrote for the campus’s 150th birthday.

Incoming campus freshman Brandon Yung, who said he particularly admired Rodríguez’s poem, said the convocation confirmed the reasons he thought he would love UC Berkeley.

“The strength that comes from diversity … is completely essential to address and think about, and I feel like it’s in the air and the water of Berkeley,” Yung said.

Olivia Nouriani is the lead schools and communities reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @olivianouriani.