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 Olympian gives gold-medal performance at graduation event
17 May 2002

By D. Lyn Hunter, Berkeleyan

While some thought Olympic skier Jonny Moseley a less-than-weighty choice for speaker at Berkeley's commencement convocation, graduates and family members at the May 17 event were won over by his address, sprinkled with humility, humor and sound advice for graduates.

The 26-year old Moseley - looking like a graduate himself in black robe, wide grin and spiked hairdo - won laughs and enthusiastic applause throughout his talk at the Greek Theatre.

"When I was first contacted about speaking here, I thought 'what's going on? Is Maya Angelou speaking at the X-Games'," said Moseley of Berkeley's invitation. "I remember the last time Berkeley contacted me. It was a letter from the admissions office that started: 'Dear Mr. Moseley, we regret to inform you….'"

Moseley went on to tell the graduates about his rise to fame after the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, where he won the gold medal for moguls skiing. Moseley was on top of the world.

"I hit the talk shows, enjoyed parties, signed endorsements and made money…all the things that made me feel important and successful," he recalled. " I was constantly happy, because people were constantly reassuring me of my righteous self."

But the glamour started to fade, and so did Moseley's happiness. His bid for the 2002 Olympics became less about the sport and more about regaining the attention he so craved, he said.

He invented a new trick for the upcoming event, a 720-degree turn called the "Dinner Roll" - which he demonstrated, in slow motion, on the Greek Theatre stage. But just weeks before the competition, he couldn't perform it consistently.

"I reconciled myself to the fact that I may walk out of Olympic arena impressing no one but myself," said Moseley. "My performance took on whole new feeling, I was no longer competing for them. I worked on the Dinner Roll with myself in mind."

Despite nailing the jump during competition, Moseley finished fourth - out of medal contention and the limelight - but said it was the greatest day of his life.

"I'm not saying go for fourth place," Moseley cautioned the graduates. "But be free in the way you measure your success. Don't let it depend on awards, money and other validations. You should own your own happiness."

Anthropology Professor Alan Dundes, who delivered the faculty lecture at the convocation, had the audience in stitches after a hilarious treatise on the ritual use of the number three in Western culture.

"We divide everything into threes," said Dundes, who enumerated a long string of familiar threesomes. "We have good, better and best; solid, liquid and gas; not to mention lower class, middle class and upper class."

Past, present and future is also popular, but Americans place far too much importance on the latter portion of this triplet, he said.

"We have a penchant for the future and tend to disregard the present and the past," he said. "I would like to suggest that you not overemphasize the concern with your future. Take time to enjoy the present, savor the moment, take pleasure in now and don't worry yourself to death about tomorrow."

Also addressing the crowd was Shayna Parekh - the top graduating senior - and University of Maryland history professor Alison Olson, who delivered remarks 50 years ago when she graduated from Berkeley.

Chancellor Berdahl conferred several student awards during the ceremony, including the University Medal to Parekh, the Priestley Award to Tam Mai Ma for outstanding leadership and contributions to student welfare; the Mather Award to Rowena Cardona Castillo for outstanding civic commitment, scholarship and service to the university; the Espenschade Prize to Sarah Wheatley, the top female athlete; the Gimbel Prize to Chris Roner, the top male athlete; and the Christie Award to Marcus Rosenthal for innovation in problem solving.

Berkeley degrees are conferred at nearly 50 individual ceremonies in schools, colleges and departments, but commencement convocation brings together seniors from all disciplines for a campuswide graduation celebration.