UC Berkeley Medalist Radhika Kannan Speaks at Commencement

(chime music) – It is now my pride
and honor to introduce our next speaker, Radhika Kannan, UC Berkeley’s most
distinguished graduating senior and the winner of the University Medal. Radhika earned the highest distinction in Economics and Conservation Studies and was an award winning member
of the Cal mock-trail team. (shouting from the crowd) (laughter) Having grown up both
in India and Singapore, two areas plagued by drought and floods, she developed a passion
for environmental justice and hopes to help indigenous
groups and farmers in India. She’s headed to the University of Oxford for a Master’s Degree
after this graduation. Underneath her academic
success is a strong spirit driven by the sudden loss of her mother during her junior year here at Cal. Please join me in welcoming
Radhika to the stage as she shares the lessons she learned from her ups and downs
as a student here at Cal. But her triumphant survival
and success as well. My great pleasure to
welcome Radhika Kannan. (crowd cheers) Here you are. – Thank you. – Congratulations. – Thank you. (crowd cheers) Thank you Chancellor Dirks,
or since the Chancellor also speaks my mother tongue
(speaks in foreign language). Good morning Professors,
family, and my friends of the class of 2015. (crowd claps) It is an honor to stand
before all of you today. When I first came to
Cal, like other students, I was driven to excel, to
be the best in academics, and in all the other
activities I was involved in. Like other students, I
wanted to fulfill my sense of intellectual curiosity. Cal brings out our competitive
side, our independence, and the drive to push our boundaries. As we leave college, those
qualities will serve us well. In fact, it’s why Cal graduates succeed and some will say, “Rule the world”. (crowd laughs) It wasn’t until later in
my undergraduate career, that I realized that
happiness comes not just from academic success but
also from letting people into my life and reaching
out to build support systems in my community. Feeling at home was not
something that I expected when I came to college 8000 miles away from where I was born and raised, but it happened to me. During the winter of my junior year, my mom died from what
started out as the flu. I could not understand how,
in a span of three days, someone who I had just
talked to and who had laughed at my crazy jokes, could
somehow cease to exists. I learned that as much
as I looked for answers for what had happened some
events in life are unpredictable and don’t have clear answers. Coming back to college was one of the hardest things I’d ever had to do. I felt my mother’s passing
in the smallest of details, from seeing freshmen
moving in and remembering how she had flown in with
me to help me do the same. Or something as mundane
as hearing someone say they needed to call their mom. Among my group of friends I
began to feel like an outsider, someone who is incomplete and to be honest there are still
times that I feel that way. But I had to accept that
this was my new reality. I would not be able to call
my mom about my bad days, my good news, or even
that Econometrics final which I had studied so hard for but still felt like I knew nothing. It was in one of those moments when I was emotionally at my lowest
and really did not feel like facing college every single day that I understood that
I had to let people in. I had been fiercely
independent to the point where it was a source of pride for me not to ask for help. But I needed help. That was how I found another
dimension to Cal: the people. People who I had never before approached for any kind of personal
assistance helped me in such unexpected and touching ways. My professors, teaching
assistants, and academic advisors, opened their doors and
opened their hearts. Sometimes even sharing personal
stories of loss with me. They helped me meet
deadlines, plan my life, and sometimes just have a
good cry in their office. My financial aid advisor
at Cal who insured that my budget appeal went
as smoothly as it could, so I didn’t have to
worry about financial aid while grieving my mom. And my Bear family from Cal mock-trail, the student advocates
office, my dance team Nadia, and my friends from Cory where
I spent far too much time, they gave me a sense of hope, optimism, and just made me laugh in what
was such a dark time for me. Don’t get me wrong, Cal is
a competitive environment but the people here pull
for you no matter what and that’s what stays with you for life. The way in which we stand by each other makes for a solid foundation
for becoming resilient. As new Cal graduates
we like to have a plan but all of us are afraid that those plans might not pan out. The fact is life is really unpredictable which all of us will find
out to varying degrees. I am not ashamed to admit that
I am afraid for the future. But Cal has taught me how important it is to have people that stand
by you when things don’t go according to plan, and even when they do. But the support system
doesn’t just work one way, you have to be there for others too. Can we agree that it is
important to reach out when you have the power to
affect someone else’s life? Can we agree that as Cal
graduates we have an obligation to be there in the community for others? And I’m sure we can all
agree that letting people in and reaching out can be so rewarding. Let’s face it, we’re going
to need all the resilience and all the personal
support that we can get. My fellow graduates we are
entering a world that is changing faster than ever, from climate change to population growth, but one that is also improving everyday, from electric cars to
better energy access. We are the generation that
will have to deal with it all. So I leave you with this final thought, I urge you to think about which
communities you can let in and which communities you have the power and ability to affect. So thank you for your time. I hope you have a wonderful graduation with your family and
friends and I wish you all the very best for your future. To the class of 2015, go Bears! (crowd shouts and claps)