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Ankur Luthra's University Medal speech: "Be the change you want to see in the world"

I begin with a thank you to the paragon of selflessness: my parents and grandparents. To be concise, you are the reason for all my success and I love you more than anything. I stay true to the quote I told a close friend as a high school freshman: if, in my old age, I can say with confidence that I am half the person my parents and grandparents are, I will know my life has been a success.

 Ankur Luthra
Ankur Luthra (Peg Skorpinski photo)
 

Second, because we live in a time of troubling international situations, I would like to make a short comment. I am neither a foreign policy expert nor historian qualified to give a detailed vision on the future state of international relations. All I know is that all people all over the world are members of a bigger classification: humanity. And whether it be our troops and government who fight to defend our nation and rights every day, many thanks and may God bless them, or whether it be the Palestinian children who are often caught in the crossfire and lose their innocence before they can even explore it, I hope for the safety of the innocent all over the world and their Godspeed return to the love of their families and a future of freedom and peace.

And now I turn my attention to my fellow members of the Class of 2003 as well as present Cal Alumni.

You, fellow Cal friends, are blessed with the distinction of graduating from one of the world's finest institutions. Congratulations, and professors who made this possible, thank you. You have been able to bask in the aura of both academic radiance that is created by the amazing diverse students and brilliant professors here and the social radiance of Greek Life, Telegraph, and a BART ride to San Fran. And God Bless the football team, we Class of 2003 seniors are graduating with a long-awaited 30-7 Big Game thrashing. Go Bears! But more than anything else, you have graduated from a University, that aside from being an unparalleled undergraduate experience, is a symbol of standing up for positive change, often against popular opinion.

The University shares that symbolism with one of my inspirations: Mahatma Gandhi. One of his sayings is what I live by: be the change that you want to see in the world.

I ask you: what change do you want to see? To figure that out, I ask: what bothers you? Like me, the digital divide and general disparity in educational opportunity? Maybe the room for improving the support structure for battered women as with a fellow finalist? How about homelessness or the spread of AIDS in many undereducated Third World countries? If nothing bothers you, I am deeply saddened. Complacency and selfishness are the core ingredients to a fading soul. If something, anything, bothers you, I challenge you to do something about it. You ask “Can I make a difference?” With confidence, I say absolutely. You ask, “But how vast could that difference possibly be?” Good question; it reminds me of a surgeon in India I read about who works for free. After a morning bombing, he saw an afternoon waiting room of hundreds of dying men unable to afford care who turned to him to save their lives. When the doctor was told by an onlooker he cannot possibly make a significant difference considering he could only save a few of the hundred, the doctor replies, "Ask the last man I saved how significant my difference was." That's the beauty of making a difference, my friends. It is not judged on extensiveness; it is judged on heart, dedication, and patience. Be the change you want to see in the world.

Along the way, you may be called idealistic, even stupid. I have been given this classification at times as well when expressing my bold vision and acting on it. I smile, genuinely. Remember, those who have accomplished the most amazing feats were the ones not smart enough to know those very feats were impossible.

I can almost guarantee people will call you crazy. The self-satisfied tend to think impact-makers are crazy. I would take it as a compliment, actually. After all, those who were crazy enough to think they could change the world were the ones who did. And I'm next. And you're next. We, the Cal Class of 2003, are next.

And through it all, through life's rollercoasters that are sure to follow, remember to look back at that Cal degree hanging on the wall and smile. It certifies your dedication, your accomplishment, your intelligence. But don’t just look at the degree; hear what it has to say. It's screaming at you, it's telling you, like Gandhi and like myself, to be the change you want to see in the world since you as a Berkeley grad are capable of such greatness. I hope you listen. I know you'll listen.