UC Berkeley commencement highlights include Ted Turner address and awarding of University Medal

by Kathleen Scalise

Berkeley -- UC Berkeley's 133rd commencement season gets underway with Commencement Convocation May 7 and the awarding of the 1996 University Medal to the most distinguished graduating senior.

Two weeks of festivities featuring 67 separate keynote addresses by statesmen, celebrities and other prominent individuals follow May 12 to 24 when the campus's schools, colleges and departments host individual graduation ceremonies.

Commencement Convocation, a gathering for all graduating seniors at the University of California at Berkeley, will be held at 4 p.m. in Zellerbach Auditorium.

This year's commencement speakers include Ted Turner, board chairman and president of Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. Turner is also a noted environmentalist and will speak on "Our Common Future" at the College of Natural Resources ceremony Sunday, May 19 at 2 p.m. on the Chancellor's Esplanade. His talk is open to the public and no tickets are required.

Others who will address new graduates include Diogo do Frietas Amaral, president of the United Nations General Assembly; Michael Boskin, former economics advisor to President Bush; Leroy Chiao, NASA astronaut; Robert Epstein, co-founder of Sybase; Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith; UC Berkeley's own Robert Hass, the nation's poet laureate; John A. Lucas, official historian for the International Olympic Committee; and Mario J. Molina, 1995 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry. (See accompanying list for times, locations and sponsoring departments.)

A total of 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students are eligible to receive a UC Berkeley diploma this spring.

Each year since 1871 a member of the senior class has been chosen to receive the campus's top honor -- the University Medal. This year's recipient is Dana Russell Wagner, who has earned a double major in economics and comparative literature without ever receiving below an A grade.

Barely 17 years old when he came to UC Berkeley as a freshman in 1992, Wagner, now 20, describes his strategy for success as "just showing up for class and studying hard and putting in the dedication it requires."

Praised by his professors as "poised, cheerful, friendly and self-confident," Wagner considers his home the Midwest, though he was born in New Jersey and lived for a time in Austria.

He said his inspiration is his parents, who "invested in me to come here," and his grandfather, a prominent scientist and inventor in Germany during World War II who protected refugees from the Nazis before eventually escaping himself.

Wagner's transcript shows as many grades of A+ as A, but it doesn't show his dedication to helping first-year students as a residence hall coordinator. He also helped launch UC Berkeley's innovative Substance-Free Living Environment.

Wagner was always "willing to go above and beyond" to build "community feelings and a friendly and safe environment within the residential complex of 1,200 students," said Tomoyo Kitazawa, a coordinator for student housing.

"When I came out to Berkeley, I'd just turned 17 and I wasn't even sure where in California the Bay Area was," Wagner said. "Berkeley is a big campus and it can be a lonely place." He advises fellow students "to keep their breadth without losing their focus" and "don't be intimidated."

Wagner will attend Yale's School of Law in fall. Career plans involve helping developing Asian countries build effective economic systems and publishing his short stories.

Other seniors receiving top awards:

The Kenneth Priestley Award for outstanding leadership and contribution to student welfare: Felicia Sze, of Lisle, Ill., an honors student majoring in molecular and cell biology. She has been active in student government where she served as executive vice president and academic affairs chief of staff.

Receiving honorable mention are Elwyn Cabebe, of South San Francisco; and Roland Ng, from Tracy, Calif.

The Mather Good Citizen Award for outstanding civic commitment, well-rounded scholarship and service to the university: Amy Lu, of Cupertino, Calif., an honors student majoring in anthropology and molecular and cell biology. Active on many university committees, she was chair of the Student Health Advisory Committee.

Timmy Lee, of San Francisco, received honorable mention.

The Anna Espenschade Prize to a graduating senior female athlete for excellence of attitude in athletic endeavor: Kerri Barrett, of Novato, Calif., captain of the women's basketball team.

The Jake Gimbel Prize to a male student athlete for excellence of attitude in athletic endeavor: Devon Ritch, of Santa Cruz, Calif., captain of the crew team.


Note to editors: Coverage of commencement activities is welcome. Times and locations of ceremonies are listed on the attached table. Note that while most are open to the public, some departments limit attendance.

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