Rep. Barbara Lee was chosen by UC Berkeley’s graduating class to give the keynote speech at the 2020 winter commencement.
UC Berkeley alumna and a member of Congress for more than 20 years, Lee currently represents California’s 13th Congressional District, which encompasses the city of Berkeley. Through her hard work and passion, Lee embodies what the graduating class strives for, said Megan Wiener, UC Berkeley senior class president.
“Everyone that goes here and everyone that graduates here are so amazing at the particular thing that they’re interested in, regardless of what it is, but I think the common factor is we do it well and we do it with passion,” Wiener said.
Lee received a master’s degree in social work from UC Berkeley in 1975, specializing in psychiatric social work. Upon graduation, Lee interned for U.S. Representative Ron Dellums, where she was eventually promoted to chief of staff, becoming one of very few women of color to occupy a senior position on Capitol Hill.
As a California legislator, Lee authored the state’s 1995 Schools Hate Crimes Reduction Act and Violence Against Women Act.
Wiener and Nikita Dhar, campus senior class vice president, emailed out a Google form to graduating students with both general and specific questions about what kind of speaker they would like to deliver the keynote speech. The form allowed students to include specific nominations, and Lee was “highly requested,” according to Wiener.
Wiener added that “activist” and “politician” were the most desired categories among seniors, making Lee the ideal speaker.
“These UC Berkeley graduates are the leaders who will take on the most serious challenges facing humanity today: racial injustice, the climate crisis and the pandemic that has caused so much hardship this year, to name just a few,” Lee said in a Berkeley News press release. “With an education from this incredible university, I know they can succeed.”
The virtual commencement is planned to take place on the morning of Dec. 19 and will include recorded messages from UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ and a student speaker, said Maya Goehring-Harris, chief organizer of the ceremony, in the press release.
Students will also be able to view personalized slides, allowing them to record 30-second messages of appreciation for their family or primary caregivers, Goehring-Harris added in the press release.
“I hope all the December graduates are still very proud of themselves, even though this commencement isn’t in person, as ideally, it would have been,” Wiener said. “We’re doing this because we want people to stay safe, and I hope they are still very excited about everything they’ve accomplished so far and will in the future.”