Graduates laughing in a line
May 22, 2024

Speakers Celebrate Moments of Persistence, Resilience, and Camaraderie at 2024 Commencement

“Graduates, you are at an inflection point in your careers,” commencement speaker Gigi Sohn asserted. “During your careers, you too will probably have unpredictable twists and turns, have big successes and difficult setbacks, and have to make choices about what to do next. I’m hoping that by sharing my story, you will be inspired to keep choosing the path that you know is right for you and for society, even if it sometimes comes at a cost.”

On May 18, 2024, the School of Information welcomed 423 of 670 total graduating students from the Master of Information Management and Systems (MIMS), the Master of Information and Data Science (MIDS), the Master of Information and Cybersecurity (MICS), and the Ph.D. in Information Science programs to the UC Berkeley campus. Adorned with bouquets, leis, and bright smiles, graduates and their families filed into Zellerbach Hall, filling the venue to capacity. Interim Dean and Professor Marti Hearst presided over the ceremony. 

“Today marks the culmination of years of dedication, hard work, and intellectual exploration,” said Hearst. “As graduates of the School of Information, you possess a unique blend of technical expertise and ethical consciousness. You are equipped not only to navigate the complexities of our rapidly evolving digital landscape but also to address the pressing challenges facing our society today. Remember, with great data comes great responsibility.” 

Sohn recounts the highs and lows of tech policy career

Keynote speaker Gigi Sohn, a renowned open internet advocate, lawyer, and former counselor to the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, has spent over three decades fighting for open, affordable and democratic communications networks. She currently serves as the Senior Fellow and Public Advocate at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, Executive Director of the American Association for Public Broadband, and is a member of several boards including the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“Gigi has been instrumental in advocating for net neutrality, digital privacy, and consumer rights,” Hearst stated in her introduction. “This globally interconnected world was made possible by intellectual pioneers with a vision for open and equal access for all. I think it’s safe to say that we might not have that access today were it not for Gigi Sohn’s tireless advocacy.”

woman in glasses and regalia at lectern
Gigi Sohn (Photo by Noah Berger)

Sohn began her speech by recounting her recent nomination to the FCC commissioner position by President Joe Biden, and how she faced immense scrutiny during the confirmation process. She eventually withdrew from the nomination and stepped down from her advisory role in politics to rejoin the nonprofit sphere. “You see, I didn’t become a public interest advocate so I could be in power. I became a public interest advocate so I could speak truth to power and make change,” Sohn explained. 

She further reflected on the events that led to her interest in communications policy advocacy and the highlight of her career: On February 26, 2015, the FCC, led by Tom Wheeler, adopted the strongest net neutrality rules yet with the help of Sohn’s legal advice. “If you have an opportunity to work for the government, take it and savor it,” she recommended. “It will make you a better advocate, a better academic and even a better person.”

But Sohn’s decades of hard work in the field hasn’t been easy. She’s been mocked, told to apologize for her beliefs, and caricatured by opponents — all while remaining committed to her mission of open internet for all. “While fighting for what you believe in can be exhausting — and sometimes can cost you friends — it can also be exhilarating,” she noted. 

As ethical technologists, graduates will inevitably face setbacks and doubters in their careers. They may even face morally compromising situations that will make them question their values. “I hope my story both inspires you and helps you in the future when you find yourself weighing difficult choices,” Sohn reiterated.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Student speakers show love to their peers and themselves, share tales of persistence

Student speakers from each program, nominated by their peers, also took the stage to address their fellow graduates. 

MIMS student speaker Tanay Mahindru first reflected on the diversity of the degree program before stating, “what perhaps brings the MIMS cohort together is the appreciation of the nuances of technology, questioning its inevitability even as we contribute to its development. An appreciation of what it takes to harness the power of technology to achieve some idea of good, even as we develop the vocabulary and sense to challenge what we know is not.”

“I rest assured in knowing that the people in this auditorium are now going to find themselves taking what we learned here into every kind of career in this developing landscape, from machine learning engineers to policymakers; product managers to user interface designers; software developers to researchers; and to academics,” he added, imploring his fellow graduates to persist and play a noble role in the future of information. 

“Persistence has always been my motto,” MICS speaker Sudip Kar said. He shared about growing up in a small town in India and the mentors that guided him along the way. 

“No one in the world hasn’t failed,” he continued. “Failures are disheartening but can also be a blessing. I hope we all persist in our dreams and never quit trying. 

Similarly, MIDS speaker Alvin Ng’s speech touched on the topic of persistence and the importance of camaraderie during the degree. “I have the utmost respect for every single one of us graduates, not only because we had the dedication/courage to come back to school, but also because we managed to juggle a full-time job, a part-time master, and a family,” he remarked. 

“For the most part, I have always considered myself extremely fortunate — meeting the right people and joining the right profession at the right time. However, the one thing I am proud of is surrounding myself with people I admire,” he said. “Every single person I have met through MIDS has left me in constant awe and admiration and you guys motivate me to become better every day.”

Lastly, Ph.D. speaker Sijia Xiao began with a quote by Mariame Kaba: “Everything worthwhile is done with others.” She explained that her Ph.D. was not a solitary endeavor, but one filled with profound connections to Berkeley, South Hall, and “extraordinary individuals.” She thanked her partner, advisors, and I School staff for their roles both in and out of her rigorous academic journey. 

“A Ph.D. is hard,” Xiao explained. “A successful paper comes after many late nights of work and rejections…To me, a Ph.D. entails more than an academic pursuit; it’s a journey of engaging in an inner dialogue toward self-acceptance.” 

Marti Hearst standing at lectern
Marti Hearst presides over the May 2024 graduation (Photo by Noah Berger)
faculty clap
Photo by Noah Berger
graduate brings mother onto the stage
Photo by Noah Berger
four students throw their caps in the air
Photo by Noah Berger
graduate in glasses holds up corgi
Fluffy friends joined us at Commencement (Photo by Noah Berger)
graduates crowd together to snap pictures
Graduates take a selfie (Photo by Noah Berger)
graduates hug one another
Photo by Noah Berger
students pose with woman with sign saying "MIDS"
Graduates pose with Senior Director of Student & Alumni Career Development Rebecca Andersen (Photo by Noah Berger)
graduate take photo with parents
Photo by Noah Berger
Female graduates take a picture together
Photo by Noah Berger


UC Berkeley School of Information May 2024 Commencement

UC Berkeley School of Information May 2024 Commencement

If you require video captions for accessibility and this video does not have captions, click here to request video captioning.

Last updated:

May 22, 2024