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Special UC Berkeley convocation for December graduates to be held Friday, Norman Mineta to speak
05 Dec 2000

By Kathleen Maclay, Media Relations

Berkeley - This Friday, for the first time in recent campus history, University of California, Berkeley students wrapping up degree requirements during the fall semester will be honored with their own formal graduation convocation.

Some 1,800 undergraduate students are eligible to participate in the new December Graduate Convocation, scheduled from 4-6 p.m. in Hertz Hall auditorium. U.S. Commerce Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, a UC Berkeley alumnus, is the guest speaker.

Until now, students graduating in the fall have been invited to an informal reception in December or to join in commencement celebrations for about 10,000 graduates each spring.

"But very few of them come back (for the spring ceremony)," said Cindy Leung, director of student services at the California Alumni Association. "Once they're gone, they're gone."

Also welcome at Friday's event are approximately 1,000 graduate students earning advanced degrees.

Emerick Gallego supports the December convocation, which is sponsored by the Chancellor's Office, California Alumni Association and Alumni Scholars Club.

"I think it's a good idea, definitely, for those people who had to take an extra semester to finish," said the 25-year-old student from Mexicali, Mexico, who is earning degrees in December in both molecular and cell biology and in Spanish.

Teddy Liaw, 21, president at UC Berkeley of the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC), is a December graduate, too.

"I'm double-majoring (in business administration and political science) and taking four and a half years," Liaw said. "I prefer this because I have more time to complete my requirements rather than being academically rushed and possibly missing another aspect of my college experience. Also, I have another summer to get a summer internship. This will allow me to recruit an additional season, and hopefully it will open up even more job opportunities."

Christina Noz, a senior and president of the Alumni Scholars Club, said students graduate whenever their schedules allow, even though they may feel a December graduation date lacks the drama of the traditional springtime ceremony.

"A friend graduating in December purposely planned her schedule so she could graduate in three and a half years instead of four," Noz said. "Another friend walked in his May departmental graduation and said that experience was anti-climactic because he still had one more semester of classes. Both were excited to receive invitations (to the December convocation) in the mail."

Students in the Alumni Scholars Club led the charge to create a celebration for December graduates similar to the one for students finishing in the spring. A decade ago, the club successfully lobbied for a December graduation "reception."

In the past year, however, club members have rallied for still more recognition for fall finishers.

"The December grads kind of get forgotten," said Yuwynn Ho, 22, a December 2000 graduate from San Diego, who is earning bachelor's degrees in political science and economics.

"We want to let these graduates know that we think they are just as special as those who graduate in the spring, and that their work is no less important," added Samia Husain, a UC Berkeley sophomore, chair of the December graduates' convocation and an alumni scholar.

Ho began working on the December convocation with others in the Alumni Scholars Club, which includes about 1,000 UC Berkeley students recognized by the California Alumni Association for their outstanding leadership.

As vice president of commencement for the senior class council in 1999-2000, Ho helped secure U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as UC Berkeley's commencement speaker last May. When assigned to find a speaker for the December convocation, Ho wasted no time making important contacts with potential speakers while serving an internship at the White House last summer. Among the prominent figures he met was Mineta.

Ho and Husain later invited Mineta to speak to the December graduates.

"I am thrilled that we are able to get two prominent individuals to speak at the Class of 2000 commencements (in May and December) who have shattered many glass ceilings," Ho said.

Mineta, 69, served as a U.S. Army intelligence officer in Korea, as a city council member and mayor of San Jose, and in the U.S. House of Representatives for 21 years. He retired from Congress in 1995 after a career that included leading the passage of legislation granting $20,000 in compensation to every Japanese-American interned - as he was - during World War II. He also was involved in settling a semiconductor chip dispute with Japan.

After leaving Congress, Mineta became a senior vice president of Lockheed Martin.

Mineta, who graduated from UC Berkeley in June1953 with a bachelor's degree in business, became the nation's first Asian American cabinet secretary when he took the commerce post in June. Former Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien, the first Asian American to head a major U.S. research university, hosted the campus's first December graduation reception, held for about 200 students in 1993.

Ho, an Asian American born in Malaysia, said Tien and Mineta have been role models for him, and that he's honored that both of them agreed to speak - one years ago, the other this semester - to December graduates.