When Carol Christ’s staff asked her how she wanted to be sworn in as UC Berkeley’s 11th Chancellor, she immediately knew the answer: with 600 new graduates and their families.
Christ, who is the first woman to lead the university in its 149-year history, was formally inaugurated on Sunday, just minutes before presenting Ph.D., master’s and bachelor’s degrees to the winter graduating class.
“There’s a fitness, I think, in the coincidence of our ceremonies; the University of California was founded to serve you, to provide broad access to a university education for those who aspire to it, and I have been entrusted with leading this extraordinary institution towards this important goal,” Christ told the graduates and an audience of families, professors, UC Regents and top administrators.
Christ was named to the position by UC President Janet Napolitano in March, and formally took over in July. She was able to serve as Berkeley’s top administrator without ceremony, but could not confer degrees until she was officially sworn in.
“You are completing your college education and beginning that period I always imagine in capital letters—LIFE AFTER COLLEGE,” Christ told the crowd. “And I too am beginning a momentous task.”
State funding has declined, Christ said. The campus faces a budget deficit. Not enough students have easy access to affordable housing or advising help. And still, UC Berkeley’s students and faculty must find ways to solve the worlds most pressing problems: climate change, income inequality and the promise and peril of artificial intelligence.
“We serve the public best—the American part of our mission—when we excel at teaching and research, providing extraordinary graduates for society who will, like you, change the world, and making progress on its most intractable problems,” Christ said.
Christ asked the graduates to never forget Berkeley and the commitment to scholarship and public service the university teaches students.
“As you begin to contemplate your own future, continue to question the status quo, continue to learn and explore—and determine how you can contribute to the greater good,” Christ said. “I believe that Berkeley instills in its students a great capacity to reevaluate and reorient themselves; you will need to exercise this skill in order to live the rich and fulfilling life that I hope lies ahead for each of you.”
History graduate Austin Weinstein, who gave the student address, said that while the cliches of Berkeley are real – he was given his first tour of campus by an alumnus wearing sandals, cargo shorts and a tie-dyed T-shirt – it is a place that still trains and develops great minds.
“For me, and a lot of you, Berkeley occupies a really unique place in the world, it is something that has stuck with me,” Weinstein said. “People expect the best of a person’s capacity here. That’s why this place is so essential, and so important.”
After the ceremony, graduates gathered outside Haas Pavilion for pictures with parents, grandparents, children, close friends and favorite professors.
“I feel like I am a better person after coming to Berkeley,” said Marla Stuart, 53, who graduated with a Ph.D. in social welfare. “Even though I am a social worker and committed to social justice, and have been for all of my career, I now feel more modern and more up to date in terms of the data and trends on social welfare.”
As Yeabsra Habtegebriel, 25, posed with her grandparents, parents and other family, she thought about her favorite moments at Berkeley. Chief among them was her final capstone project: a motorized, automatic blunt roller.
“It was more of a ‘work smart, not hard’ strategy that made me proud,” said Habtegebriel, whose family moved from Ethiopia to San Diego in 2010. “We figured out how to do it with only three motors. So many engineers want to make things complicated, my team was all about avoiding that.”