2021 Undergraduate Fall Commencement

Chancellor May speaking at graduation behind podium in commencement regalia

2021 Undergraduate Fall Commencement


Thank you Richard, and welcome distinguished members of the stage party, faculty, staff — and most importantly — the graduating class of 2021! I can’t tell you enough how good it feels to say that. And I can’t tell you enough how good it feels to be in this building with you all. This sea of caps and gowns is such a welcome sight. It’s a testament to the strength of our Aggie community, the talent of these degree candidates, and the love and support that helped see them through. So, let me start with a big welcome to all the families and friends who are with us this morning. For the moms, dads and other family members, I’m sure a lot of memories are flashing through your mind this morning. 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 theater stage. You’ve been their biggest cheerleaders and now, on this wonderful graduation day, you can root for them again – only louder this time. Now, if you’re a graduating student, today might feel like it didn’t come soon enough. You’re probably thinking of all the sacrifices, all the lost sleep, the stresses of exams and essays, maybe even the times you missed family and friends back home. Not only that, but you had to sacrifice and adapt so much more than the usual graduating class. You had to transition quickly to new ways of learning. You had to keep yourself inspired during the age of social distancing. 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. Now, after all those 8 a.m. classes on Zoom, and all the late-night study sessions — 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 — especially one that’s held in person. It’s not just the musical strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” and all the cheers that makes days like this feel so incredible. I’m excited for a bigger reason. The reason is: I know how much the world needs you now, and how much you have to offer. You are the leaders, the game changers and the innovators who will shape a better tomorrow for all. The world, especially in this day and age, needs your intelligence and problem-solving skills. It needs your energy and curiosity to address the challenges we face today and those we will face tomorrow. And, just as importantly, the world needs your spirit of community and collaboration, that openness to finding common ground and working together with people of all backgrounds. I’m especially proud that you honed these values at UC Davis –the 4th best public university in the entire nation! You are the newest chapter in a story that stretches more than a century, one that’s filled with excellence, innovation and a flair for outgrowing expectations. And now, the Class of 2021, it’s your time to shine.

College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences

Now, I especially like fall commencement because we celebrate the widest slice of UC Davis at once. In a typical spring, each of our four colleges host their own commencement ceremonies. But today, all of our colleges are coming together as one force, like the Fantastic Four. So, let’s hear it for our candidates from the UC Davis 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. Take all that you’ve learned and help plant the seeds for a better tomorrow, one that’s healthy, sustainable and equitable.

College of Letters and Science


Now, let’s hear it for the College of Letters and Science’s class of 2021! This college definitely makes its presence known. In fact, more than 40% of undergraduates pursue their UC Davis 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 at a single UC Davis college. We have mathematicians in the house. We have wordsmiths who’ve studied classic literature, future geologists, psychologists and so much more.No matter which of the 55 majors or 60 minors you pursued, now’s your chance to shine. After all, people who are dedicated to the study of humanities, mathematics, liberal arts and social sciences are in a great position 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 our societies make the most informed decisions in the most urgent times of need. You are the writers, actors and dancers who will bring truth and beauty to the world through your self-expression. You will all thrive in a wide variety of careers, but you have a key thing in common. You have 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’s driven by innovation, flexibility and diversity. I congratulate you all and look forward to hearing about your successes in these coming years.

College of Biological Sciences

And next, let’s give it up for the College of Biological Sciences! Your school 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. I’ve always found students in the biological sciences to be an extremely curious bunch. You ask a lot of questions. I imagine that’s a skill you’ve honed during your time at UC Davis. You want to know what makes things tick — whether it’s plants or animals or people or the tiniest of organisms. Or cells. Or molecules. Now, 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 of our greatest health challenges.  Your knowledge of life’s scientific processes can lead to tremendous breakthroughs in feeding the world and preventing future pandemics. 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 expertises work together. This kind of learning environment will serve you well in the future, no matter which career you choose. Keep this spirit of collaboration and a fascination with the mysteries of life close to you always. Our world will be the better for it.

College of Engineering

And, last but not least, the UC Davis College of Engineering! You know the ins-and-outs of circuit boards, and magnetic materials and computing and so much more. But more importantly, you know that intense desire in your heart to create and innovate. Your skills are critical in this Digital Age, as the pace of technological development continues to move at light speed. However, I believe you have an even greater role to play as engineers. 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 self are fine. But, I encourage you to think even bigger and bolder. You have the power to 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.

Community is Key

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. You’ve demonstrated time and again that you’re ready for this moment. You’re ready to face any challenge and be part of solutions. Now, you’re set for the brightest possible future. Some of you may be off soon to graduate school. Others might be brushing up their resumés and ready to hit the job market.  But, no matter where you go next, I hope you keep your community in mind. I hope you will think of ways to serve the greater public good. I also hope that you will seek common ground with those who are different from you, especially during these often turbulent times. 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 this: People the world over are inherently interconnected, no matter how we look, dress, talk or think. So, with your diplomas soon to be in hand, I hope you embrace this opportunity to make your mark in the world and be a force for good. No matter where you go, no matter what becomes your calling, keep those Aggie characteristics close to you.

Congratulations to all of our 2021 graduates and my best wishes for your future. Go Ags!

And now the moment you’ve been waiting for.

College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, degree candidates please stand: By virtue of the authority vested in me by the Regents of the University of California, I confer upon you the degrees, Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science.

College of Letters and Science, degree candidates please stand: By virtue of the authority vested in me by the Regents of the University of California, I confer upon you the degrees, Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, and Bachelor of Arts and Science.

College of Engineering, degree candidates please stand: By virtue of the authority vested in me by the Regents of the University of California, I confer upon you the degree, Bachelor of Science.

College of Biological Sciences, degree candidates please stand: By virtue of the authority vested in me by the Regents of the University of California, I confer upon you the degrees, Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science.

Congratulations to all!

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