‘The Berkeley inside us’: UC Berkeley graduating senior honored with University Medal

Photo of University Medal recipients
Leyla Kabuli was awarded the University Medal, an honor given to the most distinguished graduating UC Berkeley senior. The finalists for the honor included Alan Huang, Ben Harper, Mira Cheng and Nayzak Wali-Ali.

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Despite the frenzy of online classes and remote learning amid COVID-19, the UC Berkeley 2021 University Medal medalist and finalists were not stopped in their march to success.

Known as campus’s top honor, the University Medal is awarded to the most distinguished graduating senior alongside finalists who are selected on the basis of GPA, scholarly work and extracurriculars. Leyla Kabuli was the first electrical engineering and computer sciences major to be awarded the University Medal since 2003.

Kabuli graduated with a degree in EECS and music with a 4.0 GPA. This past weekend, she spoke at the campuswide virtual graduation ceremony, reminding graduates that “the Berkeley inside us goes wherever we go.”

“Berkeley has always been special to me,” Kabuli said in her commencement speech. “All through my childhood, I hoped to be a Cal student one day.”

Sure enough, Kabuli ended up as a “Cal student” — one with a brimming resume.

Kabuli began acquiring her accolades long before becoming a campus student. At 7 years old, she began mastering the piano and was accepted into the pre-college division of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music with a scholarship at the age of 10.

At school, she played with the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra and the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra. As an incoming freshman, she decided between Harvard University, Stanford University, UCLA and UC Berkeley, the last of which won “hands down,” according to a Berkeley News article.

“Where else could you meet students from every corner of the world and make lifetime friendships with the leaders of tomorrow?” Kabuli said in her commencement speech.

Admitted as a prestigious Regents’ and Chancellor’s scholar, Kabuli continued her successes as an undergraduate, receiving the Edward Kraft Award, the Jacobs Institute Innovation Catalysts Ignite grant, the California State Seal of Biliteracy in French and Turkish and the National Science Foundation fellowship.

Aside from Kabuli’s musical talents, she also has research interests in diagnostic imaging, vision and perception. According to Kabuli, after her experience at an Apple internship showed her that the corporate world was not for her, she began looking toward becoming a professor in academia.

Receiving full graduate fellowships from Stanford, MIT and UC Berkeley, she plans to attend graduate school on campus, according to the Berkeley News press.

Among the finalists for the University Medal were Alan Huang, Ben Harper, Mira Cheng and Nayzak Wali-Ali.

Harper, a political science and music major, recalled his excitement at being told he was a finalist for the medal. He was at a track meet in a hotel when he received the call and was sworn to secrecy.

Huang, a molecular and cell biology and music major, will join the Boston Consulting Group. Huang advised underclassmen to think beyond grades as success.

“I know people, like my classmates, who started their own businesses, worked to support themselves, were first-gen or had other crazy awards,” Huang said. “I think that’s just as valuable.”

Contact Aryia Dattamajumdar at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @AryiaDm.