Tutoring at San Quentin helped UC Berkeley's top senior define his future

May 7, 2024

Growing up in San Francisco's West Portal neighborhood, Christopher Ying had vague plans to become a lawyer and began prepping by joining the speech, debate and mock trial teams at Lowell High School.

But he credits the University of California, Berkeley, and the opportunities it provided — in particular, to report and edit for the Daily Californian and to tutor inmates at the former San Quentin State Prison — with helping him find his true passion in the legal field: giving a voice to marginalized members of society.

Those only-at-Berkeley experiences — plus a 3.981 grade point average and glowing recommendations from faculty members — have earned Ying the highest honor for a graduating senior, the 2024 University Medal. In addition to receiving the medal and $2,500, he will address the graduating class on Saturday, May 11, at the campuswide spring commencement.

Ying, 23, double-majored in history and mathematics — the former in preparation for a career in law, the latter because of a fascination with math that he’s had since childhood — and completed his coursework last December. He decided to graduate with his friends at spring commencement and used his final semester to study intensely for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT).

To his surprise and delight, both majors blended with his plans to attend law school. Math was a love he inherited from his parents — both software engineers who had emigrated from China — but its foundation in logic reinforced the fact-based argumentation of history.

Berkeley News