To: CNR Class of 2017

This is the draft of my proposed student commencement speaker speech for the College of Natural Resources at UC Berkeley. Unfortunately it didn’t make the cut, but I did get to the final stage interview with this!


Greetings! Greetings to the family members who have travelled from near and far places to share in our joy today. Greetings to the friends who have lived life with us these past few years –whether that be through spontaneous late night conversations or studying mute next to each other for hours. Greetings to the faculty members who have sowed wisdom into our hearts and have challenged us to pursue learning with fervency. And lastly, greetings to the illustrious Class of 2017, welcome to your graduation commencement from the number one public university in the world!

My name is Rochelle Lai and I am humbled to stand before you today representing the Class of 2017. If we were to turn back time to 10 years ago, I would not be able to stand here at all. In fact, I would be behind this podium quivering in fear. But I stand here today as the person who was the shyest student in her elementary school class –so shy that I didn’t want to raise my hand to go to the bathroom. I stand here as a recipient of speech therapy –where I was sent because my Cantonese accent hindered my English pronunciation. I stand here as your student commencement speaker.

Clearly, overcoming odds is a strong theme in my life, in fact in all of our lives –the acceptance rate at UC Berkeley is a staggering 17.5%. I also grew up with a petite stature, I chose to study nutritional science dietetics, a major that is only 30 students strong, and I study at one of the smallest colleges at UC Berkeley. In these circumstances, some may say that I am at a disadvantage. However throughout my life, and especially in these past four years, I have learned to respond to estimations of my weaknesses never with pride, but with hard work and humility.

Humility is often mixed up with humble bragging, the blatant opposite of true humility. And what I mean by humble bragging is when you say, “ugh I did soooo bad, I only got 90%.” As Berkeley students, this is actually an achievement. But this is considered humble bragging because there is probably someone in that class who got an 89%. As C.S. Lewis once said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” When we are often underestimated, it is easy to harbor pride in being the underdog. But to truly be the underdog, you must work hard with the intention not to prove yourself to others, but to serve others with the work we respond with. As we leave UC Berkeley, some of us may be compared to the work standard of the “millennial generation,” others may be underestimated from the title of our degree, or even simply because of who we are –something we cannot change. I say to you my peers, faculty, friends, family: surprise those who belittle you. Surprise them with humility and hard work. Be a better teammate, co-worker, and friend to them. This is my challenge to you.

As CNR students, we are often underestimated. On the UC Berkeley memes page, CNR students are belittled as mere environmental hippies who subsist on kale alone. Although the College of Natural Resources does not compare to the glamour of Haas or the hotshot allure of Computer Science & Engineering, studying our world’s natural resources is by far more noble and fulfilling. Studying the natural resources of our planet is like studying the handiwork of the Earth –and the power it has to shape herds, packs, colonies, and civilization. To put it more concisely, the inscription on the side of Hilgard Hall tells it so: “to rescue for human society, the native values of rural life.”

To those who claim that the study of forestry and natural resources merely consists of measuring trees, I say that these graduates and faculty are the very people who will work hard to fight for environmental justice in a world threatened by climate change denial. To those who claim that nutrition is merely promoting trendy superfoods, I say that these graduates and faculty are the very people who will work hard to reverse type 2 diabetes in our generation. To those who claim that microbial biology is merely foraging mushrooms, I say that these graduates and faculty are the very people who will work hard to cure the next epidemic. To those who claimed that raising a UC Berkeley graduate is impossible, I say to them, they just did it.

Thank you for giving me the honor to speak in front of you today. Congratulations to the Class of 2017 and Go Bears!

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