UC Davis will celebrate its graduates with 13 commencements from May 17 to June 17. The theme of history will certainly run a bloodline through this year’s speeches, as both students and professionals think about how UC Davis can connect to its past and future.
Kathryn Hempstead, a College of Letters and Sciences (L&S) commencement speaker this year, columnist for The Aggie and senior sociology major, wants us to remember Socrates and his sage words when thinking about how extraordinary a place Davis is.
“I’m pretty sure Socrates said, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living,’ and while it’s not generally a goal of mine to live by the precepts of dead Greek guys, I think that the purpose of a grad speech is to do a bit of examining and a bit of inspiring. So I hope very much I live up to my own expectations,” Hempstead said.
Aaron Heuckroth, one of two College of Biological Sciences (CBS) speakers and winner of the 2012 CBS College Medal, may not be thumbing through history books, but he will revive students’ memories through song.
“I don’t know how much I can reveal about the song without spoiling the surprise, but it’s called ‘The Ballad of UC Davis,’ and it’s meant to be a humorous look back at our experiences as biology majors here at UC Davis and the things that make this university really special. If I can squeeze even a little bit of entertainment and humor into the long commencement ceremony, I’ll feel like I’ve done my job,” Heuckroth said.
Daniel Turner, another L&S speaker and senior psychology major, similarly thinks back to all the times he spent with fellow students and is most enamored by a very existential idea: parts coming together as a whole.
“I think what I find most exciting about commencement in general is the idea that all the students who I’ve shared classes with (considering we’re in the same grade) are all convening in one room at one time. It’s a unique experience to think that each separate relationship you created with your peers in each different classroom will all be coming together now,” Turner said.
When asked if his speech will be any different from any other graduation addresses, he answered, “No.”
“It shouldn’t be. I feel my job as the commencement speaker is to be a representative of every graduate and so I try not to deviate from that expected role,” Turner said.
Neal Van Alfen, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (A&ES) said that their commencement speaker, Secretary-General Chris Buijink of the Ministry of Economic Affairs in the Netherlands, is the type of leader that will help students understand the importance of intellectual diversity. Van Alfen’s perspective is not just on UC Davis’ previous accomplishments, but on what lies ahead.
“Secretary-General Buijink leads a ministry that combines economic development, innovation and agriculture. As we look to the future, countries such as the Netherlands serve as a model for what is possible in economic development based on innovation in food and agriculture while maintaining very high environmental quality standards,” Van Alfen said. “Inviting a leader from another country demonstrates to our students the global connections of UC Davis and importance of UC Davis in addressing global issues.”
Austin Sendek, the third L&S speaker and senior applied physics major, had a similar message as Dean Van Alfen.
“The basic message of my speech is a reminder that what we’ve learned outside the classroom during our college experience is just as important as what we’ve learned inside the classroom,” Sendek said.
Heuckroth already knows how to get students up out of their desks and onto the international stage.
“I think the trick is to just keep saying ‘yes’ when cool opportunities present themselves — UC Davis is full of them. It’s an amazing feeling to take classes with people who care about the material as much as you do. We love this stuff, and it shows,” Heuckroth said.
In regards to actually performing their speeches, some are nervous, while others dread the more mundane aspects of graduation.
Hempstead admitted forthright that nudity may unintentionally be involved during her address.
“I fear I’ll trip over my own feet and expose my undergarments to a stage full of professors and administrators. But on another level, I also fear I’ll pull my punches. I want to be honest about how scary real life is, and the fact that in many ways we will undoubtedly fail, and not achieve what we set out to do. Hopefully I don’t chicken out,” Hempstead said.
She plans on reciting her speech to trees or ducks in the Arboretum, and sleeping with her speech under her pillow. She will also most likely have a “panicky cry” in the bathroom earlier in the day, but said it’s less a ritual and more a neurosis.
Both Turner and Sendek aren’t looking forward to some of the traditional, albeit less interesting, practices of commencement.
“[What’s most boring is] hearing countless names of people you have no clue who they are. And realizing that the only real opportunity for excitement is that you’ll hear a name you know be called,” Turner said.
Sendek said he will work hard to make the event as exciting as possible.
“I guess I was mostly driven by the desire to make commencement memorable for my class. I didn’t want us to have to suffer through a boring speech with too many Dr. Seuss quotes that we’d all forget within a week. Graduation is a celebration of our accomplishments, so I just want to make everybody smile at least once,” Sendek said.
Jean Wigglesworth, who has been an event manager at the Office of Ceremonies and Events for 11 years, choked up a bit when asked about her favorite part of commencement.
“I actually love each and every one because it’s an ending and a new beginning. I can cry even if I don’t know anybody walking! They celebrate what they’ve done in four or five years and then they also think about what is coming,” Wigglesworth said. “For me, it’s about the people, the kids, and making it a good experience for everybody.”
CHELSEA MEHRA can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.