UC Berkeley News


Graduation season gets under way
Words of wisdom to flow from faculty and off-campus speakers

| 08 May 2008

Craig Newmark, founder of the successful classified-advertising website Craigslist, says he’ll be winging his keynote speech to graduating seniors at Berkeley’s commencement ceremony next Wednesday, May 13.

Craig Newmark (Gene X Hwang/Orange Photography photo)
In general, says Newmark, he will inspire students to change the world via the tools of the Internet, and to follow very few down-to-earth business do’s and don’ts: “Brevity is the soul of wit; for a genuine perspective on corporate life, read Dilbert; and never deliver a prepared speech unless you’re really good at it.”

Convocation, which honors all of Berkeley’s graduating seniors and their families, begins at 4 p.m. at the Greek Theatre. It marks the start of the graduation season, during which dozens of individual ceremonies are held by the campus’s schools, colleges, and departments.

At least 10,000 students are expected to graduate at their respective commencement ceremonies. Approximately 6,800 bachelor’s degrees will be conferred, and more than 3,000 master’s, doctoral, and professional degrees are to be awarded.

For the first time, undergraduates will have their diplomas mailed to them free of charge, along with a brief letter from Chancellor Robert Birgeneau congratulating them on their accomplishments and welcoming them to the Cal alumni community. Previously, the mailing fee was $12. [See sidebar below.]

Among those who will address graduates at individual school, college, and department ceremonies are Mary Schroeder, outgoing chief judge of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris; UNICEF executive director Ann Veneman; and poet, essayist, and novelist Ishmael Reed.

Getting a (cheaper, earlier) grip on that sheepskin

May is the magical time when Berkeley seniors see their years of hard work and $100,000 in costs culminate in highly coveted degrees. Laying their hands on an actual diploma, however, has always required them either to pay one last visit to Sproul Hall — in September, three months after the last strains of Elgar have faded from memory — or to shell out $12 to have it mailed.

This year, for the first time in Berkeley's 140-year history, diplomas will be sent to all undergrads completing degrees — for free.

The one-year program, estimated to cost between $50,000 and $60,000, is being supported equally by interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Harry Le Grande and the California Alumni Association (CAA). The two offices put their heads together and came up with the pilot program to address an ongoing problem: About one-third of the students graduating each year never either pick up their diplomas or have them shipped.

"We thought that was a shame," says Walter Wong, an associate registrar who, along with colleagues Johanna Metzger, Karen Denton, and Regina Mason, is helping put the program together. "The registrar said that students would say, 'We pay all this money to go here and we have to pay $12 for a diploma?' "

The alumni association felt the same way, especially about the destruction of old diplomas because space ran out to store them, according to Bill Reichle, director of business development for the CAA.

Diplomas are kept for five years in Sproul Hall, then tossed. About 10,000 to 15,000 are on hand at any given time, by Wong's account.

CAA saw helping get diplomas to graduating seniors as "a nice thing to do to congratulate students on a job well done and to welcome them to the world of Berkeley alumni," says Reichle.

Graduating students can expect diplomas to be ready by mid-August this year, a little earlier than usual, Wong says.

Sproul pickup won't be an option; all diplomas will be mailed. Students will be able to provide the proper address soon on a new BearFacts Web page, or their permanent home address will be used.

Graduate degrees are not covered by the pilot program, which covers only undergraduates receiving degrees this spring and again in the fall and winter. But, adds Reichle, "We are hoping it will be an annual thing."

— Carol Ness

Wednesday’s convocation will include a procession of students and faculty in colorful regalia, followed by a welcoming address to the graduates and their families by Chancellor Birgeneau. Among the student speakers will be top graduating senior Leslie Chung-Lei Sheu, who majored in molecular and cell biology. Sheu will receive the coveted University Medal for her research, outreach, and mentoring accomplishments. (Read a profile of this year’s medalist.)

Scheduled speakers at individual graduation ceremonies, to be held through Sunday, May 25, include a number of campus faculty as well as a range of prominent thinkers, public servants, and businesspeople from beyond Berkeley. Among the latter, with their academic hosts and dates of appearance, will be:

Friday, May 16

Bengt Baron, CEO of Absolut Vodka: Haas School of Business MBA program, 2 p.m. at the Greek Theatre; Edith Kramer, former curator and director of the Pacific Film Archive: Film Studies, 2 p.m. in Zellerbach Playhouse.

Saturday, May 17

Mary Schroeder, outgoing chief judge of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals: School of Law, 9 a.m. at the Greek Theatre; Ann Veneman, executive director of the United Nation’s International Children’s Fund (UNICEF): Goldman School of Public Policy, 10 a.m. on the Chancellor’s Esplanade; Kamala Harris, San Francisco district attorney: African American Studies, 2 p.m. at the Greek Theatre; Genevieve Bell, director of the User Experience Group at Intel: School of Information, 2 p.m. on the Campanile Esplanade; Claudia Albano, neighborhood-services manager for the city of Oakland: graduate students in Social Welfare at 6:30 p.m. in Zellerbach Auditorium.

Sunday, May 18

Ishmael Reed, author and poet: English, 3 p.m. at the Greek Theatre.

Monday May 19

Gloria Duffy, president and CEO of the Commonwealth Club: Political Science, 2 p.m. at the Greek Theatre.

Wednesday, May 21

Gerald Vizenor, author and American Studies professor at the University of New Mexico: American Studies, 9 a.m. at the Greek Theatre; Philip Kan Gotanda, Bay Area playwright and filmmaker: Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies, 2 p.m. at Zellerbach Playhouse.

Thursday, May 22

Lillian Rubin, artist and writer: Sociology, 1:45 p.m. in Zellerbach Auditorium.

Friday, May 23

Arthur Rosenfeld, Berkeley professor and commissioner of the California Energy Commission: Astronomy, 7 p.m. in Zellerbach Auditorium; Gilbert Cedillo, California State Senator (D-Los Angeles): Ethnic Studies, 1 p.m. in Zellerbach Playouse.

Saturday, May 24

Richard Blum, chair of the UC Regents: Engineering, 8:30 a.m. in the Greek Theatre.

Sunday, May 25

Ivan Sutherland, Sun Microsystems vice president: Computer Science, 2 p.m. in Zellerbach Auditorium.

Among the Berkeley faculty members who will deliver graduation addresses are George Akerlof, professor of economics and 2001 Nobel laureate; Nezar AlSayyad, chair of Middle Eastern studies; George Breslauer, professor of political science and executive vice chancellor and provost; Andrew Garrett, professor of linguistics; Crawford Greenewalt, professor of classics; Rosemary Joyce, professor and chair of anthropology; Jere Lipps, professor of integrative biology; Patricia Penn-Hilden, professor emerita of Native American studies; Steven Wood, instructor, Haas School of Business; John Prausnitz, professor of chemical engineering; Ananya Roy, associate professor of city and regional planning; Randy Schekman, professor of cell and developmental biology; Harley Shaiken, professor of education and of geography; and Peter Zhou, director, East Asian Library.

For a complete schedule of graduation ceremonies, visit seniors.berkeley.edu.

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