UC Berkeley graduation address goes viral

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When Angad Singh Padda stepped off the Greek Theatre stage May 15 after delivering the 2017 Haas commencement speech, he couldn’t believe the standing ovation he received from friends and classmates.

Padda wasn’t out of the limelight quite yet. A video of his speech, “A Sikh’s Graduation Speech to Unite the World,” has gone viral in the past month — more than 1 million people have watched it since it was shared by Upworthy in early June.

His audience has become far bigger than friends and family of Haas graduates. All around the world, people have seen Padda’s speech, in which he encourages graduates to visualize and fix “the problem (they) care most about in the world.” 

When asked about the inspiration for his speech, Padda spoke of his fellow UC Berkeley students, who he believes are each passionate about their own cause.

“This was never my speech, this was the speech of my class, of the Berkeley students,” Padda said.

Media outlets including NBC, The Indian Express and Huffington Post have reposted the video, and by Padda’s estimates, more than 100,000 people have shared it on social media. On Facebook, UC Berkeley professor Robert Reich described it as a speech that should be “heard widely and taken to heart.”

Some of Padda’s classmates believe the speech has resonated with so many because of its global message of universality and getting into the “business of doing good.”

“(It’s easy) to understand the importance of giving back and the power of a message that focuses on uniting the world,” said Mitchell Quon, a member of the group that selected Padda to deliver the commencement address. “People want to see leaders like Angad speaking on behalf of them and therefore want to share his speech with those around them.”

According to Padda, his family and friends in the United States and in his home state of Punjab, India, have been extremely supportive of the message he has shared and delighted that it has resonated around the world.

“I sent the Upworthy video to Angad right away,” said Grace Lee, the former Haas Business Student Association President and a current colleague of Padda’s at J.P. Morgan. “Well, it was sort of like, ‘Wow, dang, when’s the last time a grad speech went viral?’ But then it was like, ‘Okay, it’s Angad. Am I really surprised?’ ”

During the speech, Padda diverged from the typical fare of commencement addresses by beginning with a traditional Indian tabla drum beat and delivering his message without notecards.

Going viral has had its side effects, according to Padda. He is experiencing a little of the opposite of the “oneness” that his speech advocated for. He has received “a few unpleasant Facebook messages” and “race-focused” emails. The discriminatory language, however, doesn’t discourage him. Instead, he has responded with compassion.

“Even if people aren’t feeling you right now, or if they don’t show you their best side, or if you feel discrimination — the best way to respond is to give them more affection, give them more love. You should not respond to hate with hate,” Padda said.


Contact Kate Wolffe at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @katewolffe.