UC Berkeley News: Student President: At Berkeley, “You Can Live Your Ancestor’s Wildest Dreams”


Thank you. Hello everyone and welcome to the new Golden Bears. My name is Chaka Tellem and I am honored to be the president of your student body.

The tumultuous nature of politics, the pandemic, and national movements have made your presence here, in pursuit of graduate studies, more impressive than ever. I can say without a doubt that distance learning has not been easy for many of us. I mean, when I first got to Cal, I didn’t expect to spend most of my time in breakout rooms.

Even the strongest of us struggled to adjust to an ever-changing reality where everything we dreamed of living was lost, from graduation ceremonies to proms. Yet with significant sacrifice comes an even greater reward, starting with some of the best years of your life here at the University of California, Berkeley.

While each of your experiences is unique, your ability to excel in the midst of unprecedented adversity has brought you here today, a common thread that binds us all. Let this be the driving force in your discovery of who you are and the scholar you hope to be.

I still remember sitting in my dorm that first night in Unit 1 with no idea what the next day had in store. I remember the swirling uncertainty, scrolling through Instagram trying to put names on faces.

Looking back, I still remember being shocked at how accomplished my peers were.

At some point this year, when someone mentions a non-profit organization they’ve created or an office they’ve interned for, you may feel like you’re out of place, as if your acceptance was a mistake.

I understand where this impostor syndrome can come from. After all, for some of us, it’s more likely to be a victim of the prison system than to go up to a place like Berkeley.

It is precisely for this reason that our presence here is all the more necessary.

Whether you are a first generation student or a fifth generation heir, your place is here.

Who would have thought that a Texas woman marginalized by Jim Crow’s segregation would have a grandson who would one day become the president of the best public university in the world.

Berkeley is a place where you can live out your ancestor’s wildest dreams.

As we work to build a better Berkeley and improve things like equity, access and belonging, what makes our university is its diversity. It is essential that we use this time to break down barriers, dispel stereotypes and create plans for the next generation.

In college – and especially in a place like Cal – it’s easy to see your peers as the competition, the people you have to beat. But the last and most crucial thing I want to leave with you today is the importance of working together.

As student body president, my administration and I will do everything in our power to make your life easier, safer and more fulfilling. But, I won’t be there when you get stuck in the library on the last question in your Econ set of problems or stuff yourself with your IT halfway through. But the people you meet in the coming weeks will be. They will be right there next to you, adding their piece to this beautiful mosaic.

Now when I feel like I did that first night in Unit 1, wondering what the future holds, it’s not with uncertainty, but with excitement.

You are now clearly part of the Berkeley family. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

Thank you for hosting me. I can’t wait to see you all on campus, and say hello if you see me. Fiat lux, and go bear!


This press release was produced by UC Berkeley News. The opinions expressed here are those of the author.


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