On Saturday, May 17, friends and family gathered at the Campanile Esplanade to celebrate this year’s graduates of the UC Berkeley School of Information. The class of 2014 included 56 Master of Information Management & Systems degrees and three Ph.D. degrees.
Dean AnnaLee Saxenian welcomed the audience and introduced the commencement speaker, Nicole Wong, the deputy chief technology officer of the United States, and the White House chief privacy officer.
Wong looked back at the Internet of 1997, the year the School of Information was formed. “Most people used Netscape Navigator to surf the web; the new hot media companies were Alta Vista, AOL, Lycos, Excite, and Yahoo, ” she said. “Seventeen years ago, we could barely imagine the world that we live in today. Know that seventeen years from now, the world will be filled with things that are only the whisper of a thought that you had last night before you fell asleep — and so much more.”
Because of that uncertainty, “you have extraordinary freedom to shape what the world will look like,” said Wong. “We are in a moment when anything is possible.”
“The Internet is formed of a series of random acts of kindness; the network providers take all your packets and pass them along so they can be reassembled on the other end. That's how the Internet was originally built: on volunteerism and neighborliness.”
Wong compared the Internet to being at a baseball game and buying a beer from the vendor in the aisle: “People help pass your money down to the vendor, and they pass the beer back to you, and they don’t steal your money and they don’t take a sip of your beer. They pass it along not because they’re required to, but because they’re being neighborly.”
“We cannot take it for granted — there is nothing that says that the Internet will continue to be as open and democratic and innovative as it is today,” she said. “We need to work for a free and open Internet, and we need to defend it every day.”
“As information professionals, you can build the Internet we live with for the next five or ten or seventeen years,” Wong told the graduates. “Build the Internet you want to live with, and the world you want to live in.”
“When you leave here, you may create the next cool app — but remember that our technology increasingly reflects our values,” she reminded the graduates. “So don’t forget to look around the table and be sure it looks like the world you want to live in.”
Deb Linton spoke on behalf of the graduating MIMS students, and her speech, like Nicole Wong’s, emphasized the social and ethical responsibilities of information professionals. “This program is not just about technology; it is also about the values technology imbues,” she reminded the students.
“It’s up to us to hold each other accountable for more than just making money,” Linton said. “How are you contributing to something meaningful, something you care about? How are you moving the needle on something significant?”
On a lighter note, Linton shared her own short descriptions of the MIMS program’s four core courses:
- Info 202. Information Organization and Retrieval: “XML, and how to organize animals”
- Info 203. Social and Organizational Issues of Information: “The Internet is a bicycle you can use to escape people you don’t agree with”
- Info 205. Information Law and Policy: “Sony and Google, please stop being creepy”
- Info 206. Distributed Computing Applications and Infrastructure: “The Big O... my god how am I going to pass that test”
“Many of these graduation speeches end with ‘we did it!’” she observed. “But let’s end this with a collective expectation that we’re going to keep doing this — that we’re going to keep representing these values and principles. I have seen what you’re all capable of over the past two years, and I cannot wait to see the great things that you’ll do next.”
The two Ph.D. graduates, Rajesh Veeraraghavan and Ashwin Mathew both spoke. Veeraraghavan paid tribute to the wisdom of “having a space for us misfits who could not be restricted to traditional disciplinary boundaries. The freedom that the I School has given us to pursue different directions is something that I cannot be more thankful for.”
Mathew reminisced about his seven years at the I School, first as a MIMS student and then as a Ph.D. student. “Working through the master’s program was like teetering on the edge of a precipice. To look down was to face the madness of asking what we are as a School of Information,” he remembered. “When I started my Ph.D., my advisers gave me a few strands of thread, and helpfully pushed me over the edge.”
The commencement ceremony presented an opportunity to honor both faculty and student achievements. On behalf of the Information Management Student Association, first-year students Shaun Giudici and Jenny Lo and presented three awards. A new award for outstanding teaching assistant was given to graduating student Raymon Sutedjo-The, and Seema Puthyapurayil and Isha Dandavate shared the prize for student with the most spirit. The students gave their distinguished teaching award to professors Marti Hearst and Kimiko Ryokai
Dean Saxenian presented the 2014 Dr. James R. Chen Awards for outstanding MIMS final projects to the projects Common Ground, Street Savvy, and Sahay. Following the ceremony, graduates, friends, and family enjoyed a festive reception on the South Hall lawn.