Undergraduate Class of 2019 encouraged to “elevate and empower others”

Photo of a group of women grads at undergrad commencement.
Photo: Josh Edelson

Rain didn’t dampen the spirits of the Berkeley Haas undergraduate Class of 2019 Sunday morning, as close to 400 students were urged to make an impact on the world and “elevate and empower” others.

The threat of bad weather moved the typical commencement ceremony from the Greek Theatre to Chou Hall’s Spieker Forum, where Dean Ann Harrison welcomed the crowd indoors, thanking parents, families, and friends for supporting the grads.

“Today we celebrate your achievement,” said Harrison, herself a Berkeley undergraduate alumna in economics and history. “You have persevered through four years of a rigorous undergraduate curriculum. You have mastered new knowledge and skills, and you have adopted a larger view of the world. You have met new people, volunteered for great causes, and made many friends. You should be proud of yourselves. I know we are.”

Dean Ann Harrison congratulates a student.
Dean Ann Harrison (right) told the grads “You have met new people, volunteered for great causes, and made many friends. You should be proud of yourselves. I know we are.” Photo: Josh Edelson

“Living life consciously”

Commencement speaker Steve Etter, BS 83, MBA 89, a Haas finance faculty member who co-founded Greyrock Capital Group, pointed out the diversity and accomplishments of the 2019 class: three quarters of the grads started at Cal as freshman, while a quarter came from the community college system. Many hail from around the globe, including Asia, Europe, and Latin America; and many, like Etter, are the first generation in their families to attend college. A third of the class completed simultaneous degrees across 34 majors.

Etter, who has taught at Cal for the past 24 years—even while going through cancer treatment—shared four themes “for students to live their life by” when they leave Berkeley Haas: choosing to have a good day instead of a bad day, every day; focusing on how you treat others on a daily basis—not just friends and family, but everyone from the airport security checker to the Starbuck’s barista; thinking about ethics and “living your life consciously within your views”; and finally, focusing on your contributions to society.

Photo of undergrad commencement speaker Steve Etter
Stephen Etter, who has taught at Cal for the past 24 years, shared four themes “for students to live their life by” when they leave Haas. Photo: Josh Edelson.

“This has nothing to do with how your work day contributes to the world economy,” he said. “This focus is on the donation of your time, knowledge and dollars outside of the workforce.”

Hip hop music’s link to business

In his speech “Business is Boomin’,'” a nod to a DJ Khaled lyric, student speaker Sreyas Sai Samantula noted that the business world and the hip hop world share a lot in common. “At its core, hip hop music is a catalyst, paving the way for progress and change,” he said. “It’s about uplifting yourself and your community and, in its purest form, it’s about utilizing personal success as a means of elevating others. Business should be the same.”

Watch student speaker Sreyas Sai Samantula’s commencement speech: Business is Boomin’.

Holding a diploma is a privilege that many others around the world will never have, he told the grads. “Many of my brothers and sisters in my birthplace of South India who go hungry for food every day will never have this privilege,” he said. “Many of our brothers and sisters right next door in Oakland and L.A. who suffer from violence, discrimination, inequity every single day of their lives will never have this privilege….. but that can change.”

Like song writers, business people, through the companies and products they create, share a distinct and rare opportunity to inspire millions of people, he said. “On our professional journeys, we have the ability to elevate and empower others,” he said. “As Haas grads we need to understand that we do have the power to be socially responsible, to support diversity, and to invest in our communities no matter what we’re doing, what industry we’re in.”

Some of the undergraduates who graduated at Spieker Forum.
Photo: Josh Edelson

And the award winners are….

Culture of Haas Awards:

Ana Mancia for Question the Status Quo

Patrick Ong for Confidence Without Attitude

Mark Ansell for Students Always

Jaskirat Gaelan for Beyond Youself

The Cheit Award for Excellence in Teaching: Janet Brady, distinguished teaching fellow

The Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) Award for Excellence in Teaching: Cori Land, MBA 19

The Departmental Citation for the most outstanding academic achievement: Tyler Barbee, who has been inspired throughout his life by the determination of his older, autistic brother, Connor. “In his time at Berkeley and at Haas, he has sought to develop a similar work ethic and perseverance as his brother in all that he does,” Harrison said.

Berkeley Haas undergrad Defining Leadership Principles award winners
Haas culture award winners: Mark Ansell for Students Always; Patrick Ong for Confidence Without Attitude; Ana Mancia for Question the Status Quo; and Jaskirat Gaelan for Beyond Youself. Photo: Josh Edelson