2018 Fall Commencement

UC Davis Chancellor May

UC Davis fall commencement speech as delivered on Dec. 15, 2018 at The Pavilion at the ARC

Thank you, Dean Winey, and welcome distinguished members of the stage party, faculty, staff — and most importantly — the graduating class of 2018!

I’d also like to welcome all the families and friends who are with us this morning. It’s a day that most of you have probably dreamed of for years.

For the moms, dads and other family members, I’m sure a lot of memories are flashing through your mind today.

You might be reflecting on the very first steps on this journey, like that teary drop-off on the first day of kindergarten. Maybe you’re flashing back to the excitement of your child coming home with high marks on their report card, or all those times you applauded them on the soccer field or the theater stage.

You’ve been their biggest cheerleaders and now, on this wonderful graduation day, you can root from them again – only louder this time. [Loud applause.] Like that! Good response to my cue.

‘Your day has arrived’

Now, if you’re a graduating student, today it probably feels like it didn’t come soon enough. You’re probably thinking of all the sacrifices, all the lost sleep, all the red marks on those exams and essays, and maybe the times you missed family and friends back home.

But, you didn’t give up during the tough times. You’re an Aggie — a go-getter — so you overcame the challenges and kept pushing, all the way to this great day.

So, after all those 8 a.m. classes, the late-night study sessions and all-nighters — and after all that coffee to keep you going — your day has arrived!

It’s a great day for me as well. No matter how many years I’ve spent in higher education, nothing beats the excitement of a commencement ceremony.

It’s actually the only day of the year when everyone on campus is happy. It’s not just the sea of caps and gowns and all the beaming parents that makes this day feel so incredible. I’m excited for a bigger reason. That is, I know how much the world needs you now, and how much you have to offer.

The tremendous amount of pride in this pavilion is equal to the immense potential all you graduates hold. You are the leaders, the game-changers and the innovators who will shape a better tomorrow.

The world needs your intelligence and problem-solving skills. It needs your energy and curiosity. And, just as importantly, the world needs your spirit of collaboration, that openness to find common ground and inspiration from people of all backgrounds.

I’m especially proud that you honed these values here at UC Davis, the fifth best public university in the entire nation.

Now, I really like fall commencement because we celebrate the widest slice of UC Davis at once. In the spring, all four of our colleges host their own commencement ceremonies. But, today, our graduating students come together as one.

College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

So, first, let’s hear it for our candidates from the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences!

What an incredible education you’ve received. You’ve learned from one of the world’s most respected schools about the interconnectedness between living beings. You’ve learned to think holistically about the environment we share with plants and animals.

As the ecologist Barry Commoner once said, “The first law of ecology is that everything is connected to everything else.”

So, your education wasn’t just about the science and economics of food, crops, trees or landscaping. It was, more broadly — and just as importantly — about the interconnectedness between people and other living things.

This kind of ecological thinking — a hallmark of your college — puts you at a distinct advantage in helping the world become a better place.

You are the ones who will find ways to feed a rapidly growing planet.

You will lead the charge in building healthy communities, whether it’s a population of humans, animals or ocean dwellers.

You will address the effects of climate change as the world’s population continues to grow. You are being empowered to do all these things and so much more.

College of Letters and Science

Now, let’s hear it for the College of Letters and Science class of 2018!

More than 40 percent of undergraduates pursue their degrees through the College of Letters and Science.  And, almost half of our UC Davis alumni graduated from this college.

You represent the most diverse community of majors in a single college. We have future mathematicians in the house. We have wordsmiths who’ve studied classic literature, future geologists, psychologists and so much more.

No matter which of the 53 majors or 60 minors you pursued in this college, now is your chance to shine.  After all, people who are dedicated to the study of humanities, mathematics, social sciences and the liberal arts are here to create a better world.

You are the future teachers and educators who will pass along your knowledge and enlightenment to generations of students.

You are the future scientists who will help us better understand our world and develop the technologies that shape the better tomorrow.

You are the writers, actors and dancers who will bring truth and beauty to the world through your self-expression.

You will thrive in a wide variety of careers, but you have a key thing in common. You graduated from a world-acclaimed university that fully embraces intellectual curiosity and versatility. You have been empowered to find success in a global economy that is driven by innovation, flexibility and diversity.

I congratulate you all and look forward to hearing about your success.

College of Biological Sciences

And next, let’s give it up for the College of Biological Sciences

Your college has earned a national and international reputation for excellence, so it’s no wonder that biology ranks among the most popular majors for all of UC Davis.

Your knowledge of life at the smallest cellular levels holds tremendous power.  Biological research may help us find cures for cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease and many other great health challenges. Your knowledge of life’s scientific processes will lead to tremendous breakthroughs in feeding the world and making the planet healthier.

You’ve learned a holistic approach to solving complex problems –– that solutions are often found at the nexus between different disciplines –– and that breakthroughs often occur when people with different expertise work together. This kind of learning environment will serve you well in the future, no matter what career you choose. 

Keep this spirit of collaboration and a fascination with the mysteries of life close to you.  The world will be the better for it.

College of Engineering

And, last but not least, my personal favorite, the College of Engineering! Just kidding, deans. I love all of my children.

But you engineers know the ins-and-outs of circuit boards, and magnetic materials, computing and so much more. More importantly, you have an intense desire to create and innovate.

Your skills are critical in this Digital Age, as the pace of technological development moves at what seems like light speed. If you were a freshman in 2014, think of how the iPhone 6 was the hot technology. Now, it probably won’t even run the latest version of Instagram.

However, I believe engineers have an even greater role to play. I’m calling upon you — the newest engineering graduates of UC Davis — to accelerate the advancement of innovations that truly make the world a better place.

Consumer technologies that serve the individual are fine. But, I encourage you to think bigger and bolder. You can get the public just as excited about technologies that better society – like those related to health, climate change and food security. Show the world what you’ve got, and how you can help make it better.

Michael O’Hearn

But, here’s the thing: No matter what degree you’re earning today — no matter which college you represent and no matter what route you took to get to UC Davis — we are all one community.

We come from different backgrounds and age groups and, in some cases, have overcome great challenges to be here. 

I’m thinking of Michael O’Hearn, a 62-year-old trumpet player who will earn a music degree today. He was diagnosed 30 years ago with a rare degenerative disease that left him unable to walk.

Michael came to UC Davis as a transfer student in 2014, where he soon became a fixture in our bands and started the Jazz Society of UC Davis. Michael, I love jazz, by the way.

Michael has not only been practicing the trumpet for his final performance with the commencement band, he has also been working with a physical therapist for this milestone today. So, look for Michael to rise from his wheelchair, to walk across this stage and receive his diploma. [Loud applause] Make sure you give him his props like that when he does.

Congratulations Michael, and to all of you who’ve shown incredible tenacity at UC Davis. We’re inspired by you all. [Applause and a shout from a woman in the audience.] Sophia as well.

‘We closed our campus, but opened our hearts’

I’ve seen the best in this community over the past year — especially in this past month — with our heartfelt response to the tragic Camp Fire in Butte County.

As we’re all painfully aware, the hazardous smoke that filled the valley made us take the unprecedented step of closing our campus for the safety of our students, staff and faculty.

I know this was a disruptive time for many, especially for those who were preparing for mid-terms. Maybe not so much for those students who were throwing rocks at the smoke. [Pause] I saw you doing that. [Laughter]

I thank you for your patience during that time. More importantly, I thank you for the incredible outpouring of compassion for our neighbors to the north. We closed our campus, but opened our hearts.

Be an Aggie hero

It reminds me how we celebrated “Aggie heroes” at our Fall Welcome event in September. That was our opportunity to shine a spotlight on students and their talents for the greater good of our university and the world at large.

Now, I’d like to shine that spotlight on the Aggie heroes from our Sikh Cultural Association. As relief efforts were needed in Butte County, these students joined with other members of the campus community to collect and deliver food, clothing and household goods for the Salvation Army distribution center in Chico.

I know that many of you stepped up as well, like those who provided donations for Camp Fire victims through the UC Davis Fire Department. Others attended the fundraiser here in town that raised more than $65,000 in gift cards for displaced Butte County residents.

I’m proud that UC Davis responded in these difficult times with such compassion and kindness. And this is the kind of spirit that I encourage you to follow today and all the days beyond.

Some of you may be off to graduate school soon. Others may be brushing up their resumés and ready to hit the job market.  But, no matter where you go next, I hope you take those “Aggie hero” values with you.

I hope you will think of ways to greater serve the public good. I hope you will find common ground with those who are different from you. 

As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all of us directly. We are all made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality.”

His point was that people are inherently interconnected, no matter what we look like, dress like, talk like or think like.

With your diplomas in hand, embrace this opportunity to make your mark on the world and be a force for good. No matter where you go, no matter what becomes your calling, be an Aggie hero.

Congratulations to all of our 2018 graduates and my best wishes for your future. 

Go Ags! 

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