The sun shone brightly in Berkeley on the morning of Sunday, May 17, but this made little impact on an unprecedented graduation day, where graduates, families, and friends watched a tribute from home rather than gathering on campus in the shadow of the Campanile. Some tuned in from apartments in Berkeley, others from homes around the country and world. Students shared photos of family watch sessions on Zoom, and the comments in the YouTube chat flowed with messages of congratulations.
The class of 2020 is graduating in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, completing their capstone projects and their graduate education remotely, while juggling extraordinary new stressors and responsibilities such as homeschooling children or caring for family.
Dean Chayes opened the tribute by congratulating the 168 graduates from the class of May 2020, including includes 45 graduates from the Master of Information in Management and Systems (MIMS) program, 107 from the Master of Information and Data Science program (MIDS), 12 from the Master of Information and Cybersecurity program (MICS), and four Ph.D. graduates.
“It’s dynamic times like these when the cross-disciplinary expertise and blend of quantitative and qualitative knowledge that we see in our I School graduates is of paramount importance,” said Chayes. “Now more than ever we need experts to help surface the sources of misinformation, to visualize trends in disease emergence and spread, to find ways to leverage health data while still protecting privacy.”
Head of School and Associate Dean Steve Weber echoed Chayes’ sentiments that I Schoolers are uniquely prepared to face the consequences of our new state of affairs: “What’s on my mind today is just how important and central the work of the I School is and the work that we all do to moving from where we all are now and this sense of abnormality, to some kind of new normal or some kind of change circumstances where it’s pretty clear that technology is going to play a much greater role in our lives.”
Weber expounded on how the novel trials of this era require the kind of expertise I School scholars have always been working to advance. In a world where technology is increasingly pervasive and required of people, deep understanding of technical engineering, political economy, and what Weber called “speech,” or how people interact and understand each other and define what information is true and relevant, can determine the what the world will look like on the other side of this global event. “The intersection of engineering, political economy, and speech issues connected to information technology is going to determine the success or failure of what happens on the other side of this pandemic,” Weber said.
Recognizing exceptional students and faculty
Professor Marti Hearst congratulated the MIMS graduates and announced the winners of the Chen Award to MIMS final projects “Sweep Smart” and “Malloci,” determined by eight I School alumni judges. “The MIMS program is unique,” said Hearst. “It brings people who have a combined interest in the technical and the social and its impact on society.”
The Information Management Student Association (IMSA) presidents Jyen Yiee Wong and Max Ingraham-Rakatansky presented the Outstanding Teaching Assistant award to Tanvi Sunku, the MIMS Spirit Award to Michael Gutensohn, and the Distinguished Faculty Member award to Coye Cheshire. “Coye showcases a unique enthusiasm and openness that is as rare as it is infectious,” Ingraham-Rakatansky shared.
Adjunct Assistant Professor Alex Hughes recognized the graduating MIDS class and presented the Varian Capstone Award to the project “Sidewaulkee.” He awarded Ivan Fan the outstanding TA award.
Director of Student Affairs Siu Yung Wong presented Hughes with the MIDS Distinguished Faculty Award, and shared how Hughes has made an impact both through the development of his course, Data Science W241. Experiments and Causal Inference, and as head graduate advisor for the MIDS program. “He’s generous with his time with everyone, and is always kind and gracious,” said Wong. “We have all benefited from our time in working with Professor Hughes”
“Cybersecurity envelopes almost all of our civil rights these days,” said Professor Chris Hoofnagle head advisor to the MICS program. Hoofnagle discussed all three of the exceptional MICS capstone projects and awarded the Chang Award to “That’s a Hard Pass.” He presented the MICS Distinguished Faculty Award to Amit Elazari.
Professor Coye Cheshire (with some help from his pet rabbits who made an appearance on-screen), congratulated the four Ph.D. program graduates, Guanghua Chi, Max Curran, Noura Howell, and Richmond Wong, and shared their respective dissertation titles.
Graduating in an uncertain time
Many alumni of the class of 2020, from the I School and across the world, are feeling understandably apprehensive about their next step in a world and economy turned upside down by global pandemic. Weber offered some wisdom he attributed to his I School community: from doing research, to starting a company, to creating policy environments, and more: “There’s always multiple ways to continue to do whatever your list of priorities are.”
He reminded the graduates that commencement really does signify the beginning of something new. “So today, go out and celebrate,” Weber said, “or maybe I should say stay in and celebrate. But tomorrow, it’s time to get back to the work that defines our lives, and that we came here to the I School to advance.”
“Our webpage says we advance knowledge and practice everywhere that human beings and digital technologies intersect,” Weber recalled, “and that really means a lot to me. Tell me there’s a better place in the world to do that right now, tell me there’s a better time, or time where human beings need to do that better; I just can’t think of one.”