In his four years at UC Berkeley, Lucky Simsuangco, 22, said he faced many unexpected turmoil: smoke from wildfires canceled classes and dark skies, regional power cuts disrupted classes, and a worldwide pandemic threatened serious illness and changed university life online. .
But on Saturday, at Berkeley’s first graduation ceremony at the historic California Memorial Stadium since 2019, Simsuangco sat with friends under a clear blue sky, donning her cap and gown and savoring the final moments of her college experience.
“I really can’t believe it,” Simsuangco said. “Ours had to go through so much.”
That disbelief permeated the dizzying ceremony, which drew the largest crowd in recent history for the annual graduation of all Berkeley campuses. The graduates could barely sit still, and the speakers were thrilled with the participation and energy. Even parents, grandparents and other supporters in the stands performed a spontaneous, undulating group wave with arms outstretched as some 7,500 graduates fled.
“I felt like Steph Curry walking onto the court for the playoffs,” said Lukas Aksena, 23, who is majoring in political science. “Everyone around me was just cheering really loud.”
Chancellor Carol Christ told graduates to recognize that their “resilience is a reflection of our campus as a whole.”
“Since the early days of the pandemic, we have seen a remarkable coming together of students, faculty, staff and alumni in support of each other and our university,” she said. “This resilience, these connections, this power of the campus community, are the reasons our university is emerging from these difficult days stronger than ever – and I believe the same will be true for you.”
This month, an estimated 6,398 students receive bachelor’s degrees, 2,474 master’s degrees, 702 doctoral degrees and 646 law degrees, according to the university’s secretary’s office.
Erick Chacon, 30, was among the graduates who struggled to sue the past two years at Berkeley. They left him without typical classroom experiences, personal connections with faculty and peers, and participation in a wide variety of campus events. However, he is still majoring in political economy and has a new job in venture capital.
The first in his family to attend college, Chacon worked for seven years before attending community college in Marin County and then transferring to Berkeley.
In addition to his amazement at graduating this semester, he said he was “kicked out of, like, 13 different schools, before ending up here,” he said, sitting on the football field before the ceremony. The fact that he would soon be a UC Berkeley graduate he still didn’t realize. Nor is his new venture capital job.
“I was so focused on getting here; I process things after they happen. It will probably hit me next week.”
Keynote speaker Randy Schekman, a professor at Berkeley and winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, reminded graduates of the power of their public education.
“The University of California is… the most important institution of higher education in the country,” he said, referring to the state’s 10-campus system. “Private universities that cater to privileges and entitlements cannot compare to you and what you have accomplished to reach this milestone.”
Schekman added that he hoped graduates would use their Berkeley education for the rest of their lives to “question the truth of common wisdom and ask for evidence.”
“We win if your mind is stretched but not filled,” he said, reiterating that graduates must remain students, to continue learning.
Also recognized during the ceremony were two state lawmakers — Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) and Assembly Member Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) — for their work to overturn a campus enrollment freeze. William Rogers, CEO of Goodwill San Francisco Bay, was also honored with the 2022 Peter E. Haas Public Service Award.
Enjoy the sights and sounds of Saturday’s graduation ceremony. (UC Berkeley video by Stephen McNally)
Asked to pick his most memorable moment on campus, Aksena, a political science major, pointed to his classmates.
“They started nonprofits, startups, researched and studied amazing things like data science or so many other courses,” he said. “I’m being vague because there are so many different things to include.”
“If you come here and you don’t want to do more than you did before,” he added, “then you haven’t really tried Berkeley.”