Chancellor Christ’s 2019 convocation welcome to new students

Chancellor Christ’s 2019 convocation welcome to new students

October 15, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


(clapping) – Welcome! Welcome to the transfer
students, the class of 2021! (cheering and applause) Welcome to the freshmen,
the class of 2023! (cheering and applause) My name is Carol Christ and as Chancellor it’s my great pleasure to welcome you all to the University of
California at Berkeley and to the next chapter of your lives. Each of you has a
different story about how you came to this place
at this moment in time, and your lives and experiences add so much to this rich mosaic. So I’d like to begin today by telling you a little bit about yourselves. First, there are roughly 9,000 of you joining our campus this Fall. 6,400 freshman and
2,600 transfer students. (clapping and cheering) The youngest of you is
15 and the oldest is 72. (cheering) Man! Making it clear that it’s never too late to invest in your education. Members of your classes
come from nearly every county in California, 50
US states and territories, and 70 countries from around the world. 80% of the new
undergraduates in your class join us from public high schools. 94% of new transfer students come from California’s exceptional
community colleges. (cheers) 119 of you come here from
having served your nation in the armed forces. (cheers and applause) Nearly a third of you are the first in your families to attend college. (cheers and applause) Among those sitting in this room today, are a student who has won a
host of engineering awards for inventing a device
that helps people perform CPR more effectively, a person who co-founded
a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing
more enriching science education for young people, a student who has traveled
to Turkey annually over the last few years to
help give Syrian refugees medical and dental treatment, a rock climbing national championship, a person who founded a
software startup that helps those with learning disabilities build their social circles, a person who was homeless for
the first 12 years of life but who went on to intern in
a Public Defender’s Office and then win a fellowship
to work in State Senator Nancy Skinner’s office
before being admitted to CAL, a student from Oakland
who created a popular app that educates users about the
amount of sugar in various drinks as well as the effects of excessive sugar consumption, and a student who led his
national team at last year’s Rubik’s Cube World Championship. (laughter and cheers) In sum, you are an extraordinary as well as an
extraordinarily diverse group and we’re so thankful to have you with us. As you settle into your lives here, I’m sure your new friends,
resident assistants, GBO coordinators, and
others will have many pieces of advice for you, and
I hope you’ll hear them out. I, too, have a few pieces of advice that I’d like to share with you today. First, I wanna offer some
thoughts on navigating Berkeley. I don’t mean literally
getting around campus, although when you start
spending time in the labyrinth of Dwinelle Hall, you might
look back and wish I did. No, I mean considering how to get the most out of a research
university like this one. I sometimes compare different
colleges and universities to different kinds of communities. Some colleges for example, are like small towns in which
everyone knows everyone else. Berkeley, on the other
hand, is a big city. More than 40,000 students
are enrolled here and we have scholars studying
every subject under the sun, from gentrification to
genetic engineering, to the works of Graham Greene. In this way, Berkeley
responds to city skills. It rewards those who can survey the vast resources in front of them, ask themselves what they want
to get out of their time here, and then chase those goals. No matter what you’re
interested in or care about, we have someone, perhaps a
whole academic department, sharing that interest. But, you must be proactive in finding your intellectual neighborhood
within this big city. You must knock on doors and make your interest and hopes known. People are eager to help
and we have services to support you, but you must have a
degree of personal agency to make the most out of Berkeley. Tied to this, with such a
cornucopia in front of you, my second piece of advice
is to make time to explore. There are incredible people to meet and resources for you to
take advantage of here and I hope you’ll use them
to expand your interest, to broaden your horizons, and grow your understanding of the world. Heed the words of Eleanor
Roosevelt who once said, “The purpose of life,
after all, is to live it, to taste it to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” Berkeley is a place where
even if you know for sure that you wanna be a doctor, you can still take a place with
a former Secretary of Labor, or a Pulitzer prize-winning writer, or the world’s foremost
authority on earthquakes. You won’t truly be able
to uncover your full range of talents without exploration and you never know when
an activity you take up on a whim might change your life. Steve Jobs often told
the story of how he took simply to fulfill a course requirement and entered a class in calligraphy while he attended college in Oregon. He later said that it
was the most important learning experience of his
life, because it made him see the value of clarity, elegance,
and simplicity in design. That course in calligraphy
was foundational to what he accomplished
with his company, Apple. I might add, of course, that Berkeley graduate Steve Wozniak, who designed the first Apple
computers alongside Jobs helped out more than a little bit. Beyond classes, you can
explore the richness of Berkeley in so many ways. By participating in
undergraduate research, joining one of the countries
top-ranked debate teams, becoming a member of the
largest student housing cooperative in the nation, founding a company at one
of our startup incubators, performing in one of our music
or theater or dance groups, and much more. Maybe your experience here will
take you far past the edges of our campus itself, to Greece
for a study abroad program, to Washington, DC for an
internship on Capitol Hill, maybe to Puerto Rico for a
service learning alternative spring break trip. Don’t miss the opportunity
for such powerful and eye-opening experiences. Outside of Berkeley’s academic
and co-curricular ecosystem, your thirst for discovery
should extend to the kinds of people you surround yourself,
engage, and interact with. For many of you, this place
will be the most diverse community you’ve ever experienced, and I mean diverse in
every sense of the word. The people you meet and the perspectives you’ll be exposed to will
stretch you intellectually, and at times emotionally. But I urge you to be
open, to listen actively, to allow the validity of
your beliefs to be tested and challenged while building
connections with people who are far removed
from those you know now. Allow yourself to be surprised
by discarding stereotypes, by developing your capacity for empathy, by learning to see with different eyes, and to put yourself in other’s shoes. This need is connected
to an issue that’s been in the news the last few years and that is our campus’
commitment to free speech. I’d like to close with a
few comments about that. Free speech, the
constitutionally protected right to believe what we wish and to
express ourselves as we wish, is fundamental, both to our democracy, and to our mission as
a learning institution. It has a special meaning at Berkeley, home of the Free Speech Movement, in which students of the
1960’s united to fight for the right to advocate
political views on campus. A commitment to free speech
involves not just fending your right to speak and
those whose views align with your own but also
defending the right to speak by those you disagree with, even if only to learn to
effectively counter ideas and ideologies that you do not support. This is not easy. You may feel that some speech
attacks your very identity. However, rather than seeking to shut down or shut out those we disagree with, the right response is to
question, contest, debate. Universities exist in search of truth. We must embody and model
a community that responds to hate speech with more speech, with rebuttal and counterpoint. Still, I understand that
our lived experiences are not the same. That some forms of speech
and expression can be immensely difficult and
feel personally damaging. I understand that there
can be an inherent tension between our absolute
commitment to diversity and our unwavering commitment
to freedom of expression. A diverse community means we see diverse and often widely divergent reactions, too. For example, expression and support of a particular political ideology. Yet, if that community is
strong, respectful, inclusive, and supportive, we together have created the necessary conditions to
engage ideas of every sort. You do have the right
to expect our university to keep you physically safe, but we would be providing
you less of an education, preparing you less well for the world after you graduate if
we tried to protect you from ideas that you may find
dangerous or frightening. We have classes on the rise
of Nazism and World War II, so that we understand what allowed such a regime to gain power. Next week, we’re hosting a symposium on the 400th anniversary
of the first Africans in this country to be
sold into slavery in 1619 at Jamestown because it’s a
painful but important chapter in our history, one whose
effects have rippled out into the modern era. That inherent tension
is what makes community and a true sense of belonging for all so extraordinarily important. When strong ties bind us
together, we’ll feel supported and it becomes easier to take risks, to move past stereotypes, to open ourselves to
learning and exploration. Nothing, therefore, is more important than our shared responsibility to ensure everyone,
everyone in our community feels safe, respected,
and welcome at all times. Now let me end my remarks
by simply offering you my warmest welcome to Berkeley. A place where we readily take on and examine authority issues like free speech in the modern era, just as we extend the
boundaries of science, seek a more profound
understanding of history, create and critique art,
rethink social norms, develop new ideas, found new companies, and cultivate our own best selves so that we can go out
and change the world. After a long and competitive
admissions process, you may feel that you’re lucky to be here. We feel, as a university,
that we are lucky to have you. You are bringing to the Berkeley community remarkable intelligence, energy, ambition, resilience, creativity, curiosity, and eagerness to challenge the status quo and reimagine the future. You will stimulate and
energize our entire university and we’re thrilled to
have you shape Berkeley even as it shapes you. Thank you, and thank you as well to all of the Golden Bear orientation advisors and orientation leaders, new student services team members, GPOs, steering committee,
everyone who’s been hard at work to make sure you get a
good start on campus. Take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. We couldn’t be more excited to be part of the great journey of personal and intellectual
discovery that awaits you. Fiat Lux and Go Bears! (applause and cheers)