US Deputy Treasury Secretary Adewale Adeyemo named spring 2021 commencement speaker

Image of Adeyemo
US Embassy New Delhi/Creative Commons
Adewale "Wally" Adeyemo, the first Black deputy secretary of the United States Department of the Treasury and former ASUC president, will speak at the spring 2021 commencement. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, the commencement is still planned on being virtual. (Photo by U.S. Embassy New Delhi under CC BY ND 2.0 .)

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About 20 years ago, Adewale “Wally” Adeyemo campaigned for an ASUC position with the slogan, “By golly, vote Wally!”

Now the first Black deputy secretary of the United States Department of the Treasury, Adeyemo will virtually return to UC Berkeley as this year’s spring commencement speaker, according to a Berkeley News press release.

“Berkeley instilled in me the belief that no matter who you were or where you came from, you could shape and improve your community,” Adeyemo said in an email. “The country is facing a once-in-a-generation challenge with COVID 19, and I’m eager to talk to this year’s graduating class about how they will embrace that Cal belief in service and rise to the challenge to make their mark on this world.”

As ASUC president in 2001, Adeyemo led students in grieving following 9/11. His work to organize a campus vigil, offer free phone calls and provide words of consolation to 12,000 people at Memorial Glade is a testament to his work ethic and dedication to service, according to Justin Christensen, who was the ASUC executive vice president at the time.

Jenny Kwon, assistant chancellor and dean at UC Hastings College of the Law, described Adeyemo as both a “diplomat” and a “goofball,” having been friends with him since their freshman year at UC Berkeley.

Kwon added that she believes Adeyemo will offer hope and inspiration to the graduating class after a difficult year.

“There’s obviously the challenge of the pandemic, but as someone who I know cares deeply about equity and inclusion and as a Black man himself, it’s also been a real time of division, particularly over racism, and I imagine he’s going to want to address that,” Kwon said. “He’s also an eternal optimist. I think he’s going to want to bring optimism and joy even amidst all these challenging themes.”

With ongoing public health concerns from the COVID-19 pandemic, the commencement ceremony is set to take place virtually on the morning of May 15.

Samay Garg, a graduating senior, said he is excited to see his friends at the limited, student-only procession campus is offering. He added that as an immigrant from Nigeria, Adeyemo is an inspiring speaker choice because he “represents a lot of what Berkeley stands for and the American dream.”

Christensen said he hopes Adeyemo will speak about the lessons he learned during his time on campus and how he has brought them to his new role at the United States Department of the Treasury.

“He lives and breathes the work of service for others, and so at that time it was in service of Cal students and now it’s in service of the American people,” Christensen said. “Although it’s virtual, it’s a beautiful homecoming for him to kind of return to the place that he gave so much to, but also that gave him so much.”

Contact Emma Taila at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @emmataila.