More than 600 members of UC Berkeley’s Class of 2018 readied themselves for their final moments as undergraduate students as friends, family and faculty gathered at Haas Pavilion on Saturday morning to cheer them on and offer parting advice.
Despite heightened security due to unspecified threats on the internet, attendees were visibly excited for the ceremony. Among the anticipated speakers was keynote speaker Nathan Adrian, five-time Olympic gold medalist and campus alumnus of the class of 2012. Adrian encouraged the graduates to find role models, set high goals and take the necessary time and criticism to grow.
“Take time to get to know the people around you,” Adrian said. “Feel free to leave your phone in your pocket for an entire meal — or speech — every once in a while.”
Other speakers struck similar notes. The winter commencement ceremony began with introductory remarks from Associate Vice Chancellor and Dean of Students Joseph Greenwell. Additional speeches were given by Chancellor Carol Christ, former U.S. ambassador to Australia Jeff Bleich and graduating senior and applied mathematics major Mahnoor Mian.
Christ spoke of the “hugely consequential changes in the world” that the class of 2018 witnessed in its time on campus. Donald Trump’s election in the 2016 presidential election, the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, as well as natural disasters including the recent wildfires, constituted a few of these moments.
Christ praised the graduating class for embracing opportunities to speak out, organize and volunteer, as well as for seeking out efforts to “leave (campus) — a microcosm of larger society — better than you found it.” Christ also encouraged the students not to abandon civic life and commitment to the public good and urged them to hone the skills needed to fix a “broken democracy.”
At the ceremony, Christ awarded Bleich, a UC Berkeley School of Law alumnus, the Peter. E Haas Public Service Award. Bleich spoke about the importance of public service and good citizenship, as well as how big changes can be accomplished through small, collective acts.
“America is not great because we put ourselves first but because we refuse to put anyone second,” Bleich said.
Mian then spoke about her experience at UC Berkeley. She told her peers that as the new graduating class, they together have the opportunity to “be whoever we want to be.”
As students’ names were called and they walked across Haas Pavilion to receive their degrees, families and friends cheered from the sidelines. Many members of the newly graduated class took the opportunity to make the moment their own: One unzipped his gown to reveal a Santa Claus costume, and another carried her baby, wearing a matching miniature cap, with her.
“It’s been an amazing ride,” said Karina Solis, who is a part of the graduating class of 2018, of her time on campus. “There have been ups and downs, but the sun still rises, and I am grateful for every opportunity.”
Srinand Balaji, another recent graduate, said he is happy all his work has come to fruition as he looks forward to his job at a startup. Many students also said they look forward to a well-deserved break.
“I’m going to chill,” said Ava Davis, a member of the graduating class. “I’m going to check my brain out.”