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Pride and celebration filled the stands at the Greek Theatre for Tuesday's Commencement Convocation. (Steve McConnell/UC Berkeley NewsCenter photos) Parents with congratulatory balloon

Grads urged to take a global view, make global change

– The Class of 2008, gathered under sunny skies to celebrate the end of their beginning and the beginning of their new lives, left the Commencement Convocation at the Greek Theatre on Tuesday with a clear message ringing in their ears: "Go out and change the world."

Graduate with A's-style Cal cap
With shade at a premium in the sun-baked Greek, this grad wore his divided loyalties on his hat.
It came down, in various ways, from virtually every speaker who took the gold-and-blue-decorated podium to address the cap-and-gown-clad students and their bouquet-bearing parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, children, teachers, and friends at the annual graduation event.

The most pointed delivery came from keynote speaker Craig Newmark, founder of the popular and paradigm changing Internet site Craigslist, who told students to get involved in public service because "we're going to be needing a lot of good people in Washington, rebuilding things."

Robert Birgeneau, presiding over his fourth commencement event since taking over as chancellor, told the students that a Berkeley degree is a privilege as well as an honor.

"I hope that as you leave Berkeley, you will carry with you your passion for working for a better society that gives fair opportunity to all, and your zeal for ensuring the long-term health of our planet," he said.

Before kicking off the celebration, though, Birgeneau called for a moment of silence to honor "one of our students who would have been part of today's graduation class," Christopher Wootton, an engineering student who was killed in what the chancellor called "a senseless and tragic stabbing" earlier this month. The bustling amphitheater fell silent for a full minute.

Colorful hair sets these graduates apart
Splashes of color could be found everywhere amid the black caps and gowns, from tassels to leis to wildly colored tresses.
Before getting down to the business of the day, the chancellor pulled out "a surprise acknowledgement for the Class of 2008" a blue-and-gold Cal banner that had traveled more than 5 million miles on the space shuttle Atlantis in February. It was the gift of a high-flying mechanical engineering alumnus, Col. Rex Walheim '84, who carried the pennant as he climbed outside the International Space Station to make repairs.

Shifting his attention to this year's graduating class, the first to spend all four years under his leadership, he told them: "I can honestly say that I found you the most engaged and engaging students that I have ever encountered and I've previously taught at Yale, Oxford, and MIT." A mighty cheer went up.

He credited the students with encouraging him to create a new vice chancellorship for equity and inclusion, and said they also "educated me on greenness and pushed hard for our commitment to sustainability."

That kind of idealism, he said, can have a big impact on people's lives.

Students heading out into the world after graduation are joining a community of Cal alums more than 425,000 strong, Birgeneau said. "You may not know where the future will take you, but know as you go that we are with you."

Keynote speaker Newmark used the lessons of his 13 years building Craigslist.com to pass along a few tips on the nature of change to the graduating students in his self-deprecating and self-professed "nerdy" way.

Craig Newmark speaks an convocation
Keynote speaker Craig Newmark of Craigslist urged graduates to pay attention to "the boring stuff, the stuff we take for granted."
As the website's customer service representative a title he takes very seriously he says he's learned the importance of shared values and fairness.

"The Internet is about inclusion," he said. "We've built a culture of trust, not by trying to aspire to high ideals but by sticking to shared values like the idea that you want to treat people like you want to be treated, that you want to give people a break now and then."

These may sound like small things, he said, but they can add up to a profound change in the way the world works. "It's the boring stuff, the stuff we take for granted, that's actually the important stuff," Newmark said.

This year, he said, "is a big year in human history. There's a big election coming up. Most of you are too young to remember when we in this country had the rule of law and a constitution, but at Craigslist we act as if the Constitution and Bill of Rights are still in effect because we're pretty confident that on Jan. 20 we're going to see that stuff again."

In encouraging students to consider public service, he put the issue even more bluntly: "The task before you guys is to fix the way we do government."

"And if you want to do something that's really big and boring," he added, "get out and vote."

The day's message also rang out clearly from Marcos Espinal, whom Birgeneau honored with the Elise and Walter A. Haas International Award for his lifelong work fighting tuberculosis around the world. Espinal, a native of the Dominican Republic who earned his master's in 1990 and Ph.D. in 1995 in public health at Berkeley, said many people believe that tuberculosis is no longer a problem, "and it shouldn't be it can be cured with a treatment that costs $25."

"The irony is tuberculosis still kills 2 million people every year," Espinal said. "In my view it is simply a disgrace that society has not been able to get rid of such a major scourge."

Being back at Berkeley, he said, re-invigorates his own dedication to true public health, and he exhorted the students to be bold as they head into their futures.

"To you, I wish to say, there is nothing the human mind cannot conquer," Espinal said. "Your powers are immense. Go out and grab the world, pursue your dreams. You will never be able to achieve what you don't try."

Presntation of the Univerwity Medal to Leslie Sheu
Chancellor Birgeneau presented the University Medal to Leslie Sheu, honoring her selection as UC Berkeley's top graduating senior.
Echoing the same words was Leslie Sheu, winner of the University Medal, Berkeley's top honor for a graduating senior. She was cited for her 3.99 grade-point average and for her research on drug-resistant tuberculosis, outreach to Asian and Pacific Islanders with hepatitis B, and work with orphans and adoptees from China.

As the graduates fan out around the globe to tackle global warming, disease, or natural disasters, she said, "we must take it upon ourselves to use what we've been given to address those challenges."

"This is a most important time to seize the moment," said Sheu, who plans to go on to medical school at UC San Francisco. "Congratulations to the Class of 2008. Carpe diem!"

Birgeneau also honored medal finalists Matthew Johnson, Julia A. Malkina, Samuel Eli-Curtis Pittman, Anitha Sivasankaran, and Angelica Lynn Zen.

The Class of 2008, in the persons of Filip Nowak and Mary Rose Parrish, handed Birgeneau a giant check representing the collective gift of 1,700 seniors to their university, a total of $71,248.11, which will reach nearly $200,000 when matching funds from alumni and from the Chancellor's Challenge for Student Support are added.

Senior class president Carrie Wong had the last word, and used the moment to give a global spin to John F. Kennedy's famous exhortation to public service.

"Ask not what your world can do for you," Wong said. "Ask what you can do for your world."

Graduate's cap thanks her parents This newly minted graduate sends her greetings and thanks to her No. 1 fans in the stands.