Berkeley Social Sciences Commencement 2024: Celebrating a Milestone of Achievement

Black Graduation 2024(1)

Alameda Superior Court Judge Jennifer Madden, a Berkeley African American Studies alumna, gave her keynote commencement address at Black Graduation. Photo by Jonathan Hale.

Black Graduation 2024

Michael Myers II, who received his Ph.D. during the Black Graduation, was hooded by Ula Taylor, the incoming African American Studies (AAS) chair. Standing beside him from left to right are AAS professors Leigh Raiford and Michael Cohen and outgoing AAS Chair Nikki Jones. Michael will attend UC Riverside in the fall as a Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow. Image courtesy of African American Studies.

Ethnic Studies Commencement 2024

Ethnic Studies graduating students gave senior Sana Afzal a standing ovation following her commencement speech. Image by Kenny Ma.

May 23, 2024

CogSci Commencement 2024

Political Economy graduates. Photo by Emily Yang.

Berkeley Social Sciences’ 15 departments and programs held their commencement ceremonies last week, which included notable speakers, to celebrate their students’ hard work and perseverance to earn their degrees. There were many moments of pure joy for the students, many of whom did not have a traditional commencement ceremony when they graduated from high school in 2020 because of the pandemic. 

The range of speakers included Dr. Hicham Alaoui of Morocco, Alameda Superior Court Judge Jennifer Madden (Berkeley African American Studies alumna), CNN host W. Kamau Bell, Berkeley Sociology Professor Emeritus Harry Edwards, Berkeley Anthropology Professor Rosemary Joyce, KQED Forum Co-Host Alexis Madrigal, Berkeley Economics Professor Maurice Obstfeld, Berkeley Linguistics Professor Andrew Garrett, City University of New York Geography Professor Ruth Wilson Gilmore, University of Buffalo History Professor Robin Mitchell (Berkeley History alumna), Berkeley Political Science Professor Sean Gailmard, Berkeley Psychology Professor Iris Mauss and UC San Diego Cognitive Science Professor Bradley Voytek.

Here’s a snapshot of some of the ceremonies:

Sociology, Political Economy and Global Studies

Sociology’s ceremony featured an keynote address by Harry Edwards, a legendary sociologist who created the field of sociology and sports and collaborated with former U.S. Olympians John Carlos and Tommie Smith on the iconic Black Power salute during the 1968 Mexico City Olympic games.

Edwards shared his own journey and the turbulent times he faced in the 1960s, drawing parallels to today. He encouraged graduates to believe in themselves and their capacity to achieve their dreams. He also reminded them to approach societal issues inclusively and to hold on to their dreams while remaining pragmatic.

"As I look out upon the graduating class, despite these turbulent times, I am confident that you got it,” he said. “I am confident in the fact that you are much smarter, better prepared and equipped than any other generation. I believe that our goal of a more perfect union is possible with this generation in power."

Graduating senior Nida Zahid said: “Sociology is like being a detective of society. “Let us use our education in sociology to not only understand the world, but make it better.”

Sociology Lecturer Laleh Behbehanian concluded the ceremony by acknowledging the collective efforts of the faculty and staff to “turn classrooms into magical spaces.” She also urged the graduates to “use your education to be of service to your community, and never forget what it means to be a sociologist and use it to fight like hell for a better world.”

Political Economy and Global Studies' keynote speaker, Dr. Hicham Alaoui of Morocco, focused on the importance of global citizenship and the role of universities like Berkeley in fostering civic education.

"We stand in a critical position. We must recognize our identity not only as members of nation states, but as global citizens,” said Dr. Alaoui, who is also a lecturer at Berkeley Political Science. “Global citizenship means bearing a collective responsibility for transnational problems. Universities like Berkeley must not merely impart the modern competences and skills needed to function in the global economy. They must go beyond this by providing a sense of global citizenship you can energize to the society by infusing our moral values with a solidary purpose.” 

Global Studies student speaker Elijah Rock stressed the urgent need for graduates to apply their knowledge to address global threats and make a positive impact. "Class of 2024, be proud of what you've had to work through. In such a multi-polar world with numerous threats against humanity, the knowledge you have acquired here is in dire need of application," he said.

African American Studies, Ethnic Studies and Anthropology

During theAfrican American Studies’ Black Graduation ceremony, Alameda Superior Court Judge Jennifer Madden, a proud Berkeley African American Studies alumna, shared valuable life lessons with the graduates, drawing from her personal experiences. 

"No matter how bleak things are, don't give up. Failing doesn't mean you are a failure because everyone in this room has not achieved something that they wanted,” Judge Madden said in her keynote address. “When you fall down, you get up."  

Judge Madden also emphasized choosing a career based on passion and she spoke to the unique strengths of the African American community. "Specifically, as African Americans, we have a creative power and innovation to design a future that celebrates our individual accomplishments as well as our collective successes. Being pro-Black doesn't mean you are anti anything else."

African American Studies Valedictorian Chloe Marie Harris expressed her deep gratitude to the Black Studies Department for their “unwavering support” and for creating an empowering academic environment. "The Department has been more than an academic home or hub. It has been a community that nurtures, inspires and empowers," she said.

At the Ethnic Studies commencement, CNN’s W. Kamau Bell, an influential comedian and social commentator, told the graduates about the importance of making societal changes more palatable to the broader public. "The way that I choose to make the revolution irresistible is to take all the good scholarship and work of people working in Ethnic Studies and figure out how I can make it more palatable for the people in America to go 'hey y'all, can't we do a better job at this whole America thing?'" he said in his keynote address. 

He acknowledged the frustrations many feel with the current state of affairs but expressed confidence in the graduates' potential to affect meaningful change. "I have all the respect and faith in the world that you all will accomplish what you want to here,” Bell said. “And we need you. It is y'all who determine what America is."

Undergraduate student speaker Sana Afzal highlighted the collective responsibility she and her peers bear. "We the students are truly the legacy of Berkeley. It is incumbent upon all of us to connect with each other, to stand alongside each other, and to fight for each other," she said.

During the Anthropology ceremony, graduate student speaker AJ White highlighted the broad and inclusive nature of anthropology. "Anthropology is defined by its conscientious refusal to pick a lane. It embraces and reflects the incomparable breadth of humanity itself," he said. 

Professor Rosemary Joyce emphasized in her keynote address the responsibility of graduates to represent the nuanced understandings that anthropology provides. "Our answers to questions about why humans act the way they do, and what humans might be capable of, and how humans were in the past, are indeed complicated, because being human is complicated," she said.

Anthropology Chair Sabrina Agarwal commended the graduates for their resilience and perseverance through a college experience that was marked by the pandemic, climate change and political unrest, recognizing their determination to succeed despite these challenges.

As the commencement ceremonies concluded, it was a reminder to many that Berkeley Social Sciences is a place of excellence, resilience, determination, and the promise of a brighter future for its many graduates, who were sent off to shape the world with their knowledge, compassion and commitment to making a difference.

Meghna Mukherjee and Raka Ray

Meghna Mukherjee (left), who received her Ph.D. from Sociology last week, and Berkeley Social Sciences Dean Raka Ray (right), who was her faculty advisor and chair of her Ph.D. committee. Image by Meha Mukherjee. 

Dr. Hicham Alaoui of Morocco delivered a keynote address at the Political Economy and Global Studies commencement. He is also a lecturer at Berkeley Political Science. Image by Emily Yang.
Anthropology Professor Rosemary Joyce delivered the keynote address at the Anthropology Commencement. Image by Nora Povejsil.
Sociology Commencement 2024

Sociology Professor Emeritus Harry Edwards gave a keynote address at the Sociology Commencement. Image by Nora Povejsil.