Thank you, Dennis Shem, for your kind introduction, and congratulations on your leadership in the class of 2014. Thank you to Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, for being a stalwart champion of students and higher education. Thank you to the students, faculty, and leaders of UC Berkeley for your invitation to participate in this special day. I’m honored to be here.
To the parents, grandparents, families and friends of the graduates: your love and support, your hard work and sacrifice, have helped make this day a reality. Let us all acknowledge you for supporting and inspiring the students graduating today.
To the graduates: this is your day, your achievement, your success. Congratulations, class of 2014!
The journey to this commencement has been long and challenging at times, engaging and exhilarating at others. Each Berkeley student paves a unique path through this great university. All Berkeley graduates can look back on a set of shared experiences from their time here. From the Golden Bear Café to the Big Game, from Sather Gate to the Campanile, from late nights in the ‘main stacks’ to tumbles down ‘4.0 Hill,’ each of you leaves this institution with a powerful collection of common memories.
And Berkeley students share common values: a strong ethic of public engagement. Thank you for your strong commitment to public service, manifested by your thousands of hours of community service.
You graduate in a year that marks the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement, a campaign embedded into the heart of this campus – on the Savio Steps, on Sproul, at the Free Speech Movement Café. In many ways, Americans across the country share the legacy of what happened here 50 years ago. It was a demonstration that began as a call for greater freedom on campus, and it strengthened a value integral to the American story: the power of free expression.
That tradition began at the start of our country. However, when America was founded, a message could only travel as fast as a horse could run or a ship could sail. Communication and transportation moved at the same speed. Nonetheless, our Founders were successful disruptors of the status quo.
Being called a disruptor is a high compliment. You here at Berkeley are already disruptors in many ways. In 1964, Mario Savio and company were disruptors of the status quo too. When he and his fellow activists occupied Sproul, their exercise of free speech could travel as fast as television and radio – the tools of that time.
Now, it’s all about you – what you can do with your freedom to speak out, with the tools of our time: Instagram and YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. In fact, how many of you have tweeted since you entered the stadium today? Now think about this: at least one of you is going to create the next social media platform that all of us will be using. With these new tools, every one of you has the power to make a difference. With the ability to exchange ideas in real time – instantaneously – just think of what you can accomplish – what progress, what change – how you can shape the future.
We face an economic system with growing income disparity. Our middle class is the backbone of our democracy. Opportunity for all has always been the defining feature of our economic success. So, let’s be disruptors. Let’s build ladders of opportunity and create good-paying jobs for anyone willing to work hard, take responsibility, and play by the rules to achieve the American Dream.
Today, on the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, let’s insist on a quality education for all of America’s children. Let’s unleash the potential of women in our economy – because we believe, when women succeed, America succeeds. Let’s recognize the value and promise of newcomers to America with comprehensive immigration reform. Let’s close the opportunity gap and build an economy that works for everyone.
We face a political system where the Supreme Court equates money with speech, opening the floodgates to secret, special interest money in our elections. Our Founders created a democracy – a government of the many, not a government of the money. So, let’s be disruptors. Let’s restore power to the voices of the people, not the pockets of the privileged few. I guarantee you this: if we use the power of free speech to reduce the role of money and increase the level of civility in our politics, we will elect more young people, more women, more minorities, more LGBT Americans – and all Americans will be the better for it.
We live in a planet under siege, with cynics who deny science and reject the truth of climate change. But the facts are clear and indisputable. Here at Berkeley, you embrace science to preserve our planet for future generations.
Free speech – new modes of communication – make it easier to be disruptors when necessary; to network, to communicate, to organize for change – to address the challenges of our time.
In this endeavor, you know you are not alone. You join peers across the country and in every corner of the world. In my travels, I’ve met young people ready and willing to speak out and disrupt for the sake of peace and the common good. These young people tell me, that like you, like your generation, they want an end to conflict, whether it’s the savagery of war abroad, or the tragedy of gun violence at home.
And you are not waiting for leaders to act. You are engaged in your own dialogues and implementing your own solutions, using the power of social networking and social media to spread your message. You are shaping the path to the future – a future of peace and prosperity and progress for all. You are part of disrupting the status quo. In doing so, you are pursuing the well-worn course of American history while, at the same time, blazing a path of your own.
In this Memorial Stadium in 1962 on Charter Day, President Kennedy said: ‘Nothing is more stirring than the recognition of great public purpose. Every great age is marked by innovation and daring – by the ability to meet unprecedented problems with intelligent solutions.’ As you leave this stadium today, as Berkeley graduates, that must be your aim and your mission: to use innovation, to use your daring spirit, to resolve conflict, to seek and find intelligent solutions – to have the courage to be disruptors.
Remember this: with the knowledge gained here, you can do anything. You may not be aware of the opportunities that await you, but when those opportunities present themselves, be ready. Be idealistic, be pragmatic, be ready. That’s a lesson I’ve taken to heart in my own experience. Although with my generation, I was inspired by John F. Kennedy, I had no idea I’d go from the kitchen to Congress, from homemaker to House Speaker.
So, my wish for you is that you will go forward with confidence strengthened by your Berkeley education. My wish is that you know your power to light the future with your ideals and your optimism. My wish is that you will be disruptors when necessary, and that you enjoy every moment of it. I have faith in the future because of America’s young people – because of you.
Thank you, Berkeley class of 2014, for giving us all hope. Congratulations to you, to your families, and to Cal-Berkeley. Enjoy this day.