Anjika Pai, majoring in environmental sciences and minoring in music, is the 2022 University Medal recipient. (Video from University of California, Berkeley)
Anjika Pai, a major in environmental sciences and a minor in music and recipient of the 2022 University Medal, gave the following speech at the UC Berkeley Commencement Ceremony in 2022:
Congratulations graduates! I am beyond grateful to be here and so excited to share my personal love letter to Berkeley with you.
Ours was a forbidden love. My parents kept me away from you for 18 years. My mom and dad, who were used to India’s perpetually hot equatorial climate, chose to settle and raise a family in a state that often reaches below freezing temperatures. His decision made the west coast a mystery to me, and it only made me love you more. Studying by my heater on winter nights in Pennsylvania, I’d listen to “California Dreamin'” and “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” and dream about you.
Those love songs made me believe that your home could become our home, a place where a golden sun would surely shine on me as I discovered who I was meant to be. When I got engaged to you, Berkeley, many of my community members had their own ideas about our relationship. They told me: “You will become a completely different person, spending all day outside instead of going to class” and seriously warned me: “Don’t become a hippie!”.
After all the dreams of being with you, there was still an adjustment period for me when I moved. Like most international and out-of-state students, I quickly learned about the land and the people around me and adapted to their social norms. . You had your own history, environment and population, a couple of skeletons in your closet, but nothing to really worry about, they were so special and different. And these characteristics were never adequately described in the songs.
From the botanical gardens to the Doe Library, your beauty was endless. But I fell in love with you because of your mission. You carry out the vision of being a university that “contributes even more than California gold to the glory and happiness of future generations.” There it was: our future, together. Together, at the University of California, Berkeley, we achieved “firsts” and set standards for our nation and the world.
We have gained the necessary tools to maintain a tradition of building knowledge for the public good”.
All this to say. Those people in my hometown couldn’t imagine how Cal, and California, would really change me, as it does all of its graduates. Although we have been surrounded by greatness, we have obtained the necessary tools to maintain a tradition of building knowledge for the public good. Our renowned faculty, staff, and mentors have taught us to turn every assignment into an opportunity not only to imagine innovative solutions, but also to expand our circle of attention and consider a diverse set of perspectives. Every 8:00 am discussion, every arduous three-hour lab, every performance at Hertz Hall, and every Golden Bears game has brought out the best in us as we push the boundaries of what’s possible.
However, Berkeley, our honeymoon phase has finally come to an end. No matter how many sunsets bathed our skies in cotton candy pink, rose-colored glasses eventually faded. We experience power outages, N95 masks on smoke days, and awkward transition periods from in-person instruction. I saw how you fought to give people what they deserved sometimes, people like our amazing professors and graduate student instructors. We feel the pressures of political turmoil, both in the state and internationally. When I saw what seemed like the worst of times, it became hard to believe in my ability to do good.
So I sought advice. After countless lessons in my environmental science classes on the catastrophic and unavoidable effects of climate change, I was asking my teachers: do you think we will be able to “achieve”? Each and every one responded that our generation will be the one to reverse the destruction we have witnessed so far. But this vote of confidence has not been the only thing that has reoriented me to hope again and again. It has been the cutting-edge research, community organizing, and, yes, hippie counterculture of this student body that has shown me the potential to create radical positive change.
Berkeley, I’m leaving you now. This is the hard part, and I’ve never been on this side of a breakup before. So let me say the usual lines: it’s not you; it’s me. And there will always be a special place in my heart for you. Some of the rumors about you were true: I am leaving a nicer, smarter, and much more laid back person than I originally was. But I need room to grow and I need to build on what I’ve learned here to continue advancing our mission for future generations. That way, I guess it’s best for both of us.
To my fellow graduates, I am sure that no person, nor any song, could have imagined what all of us have found and achieved here. Through its delicious unpredictability, this four-year relationship gave us the audacity to believe that we have the power to transform the world forever. I wish you carry this trait of fearless optimism with you wherever you go. May this spark in you light the way for others.