Graduate Assembly President Adam Orford delivered the following welcoming remarks at the New Graduate Student Orientation on August 27, 2019.
Today it is my job to welcome you to graduate school. So, welcome!
But the thing about that is that there really is no single “graduate school” to welcome you to. Some of you are here for a one-year certification. Some of you are here for a two-year degree. Or a three-year professional degree. Or a five-year Ph.D. Or (we know who we are) a… let’s say… eight-year Ph.D. That is all graduate school, and I welcome you to all of it. Welcome to one, or perhaps two, of U.C. Berkeley’s 100+ academic and professional advanced degree programs. This place is amazing and this experience is going to change your life.
So now, you are here. You have made it. And I would like to invite you now to think about this for a few seconds: why are you here? I know this is a hard question. I know the answer might be because you didn’t know what else to do. Or because it seemed like a good idea at the time. Or because you enjoy school – because it is easy, or because it is difficult. Because you have a career in mind. Or you don’t have a career in mind. Maybe you want something? To change the world? To prove yourself? Maybe you’re not sure.
Whatever the answer is, I want to emphasize that you are in the right place. Dean Garcia Bedolla emphasized that too. That you are in the right place. That you belong here. Why do we do that? It is because graduate school can be enormously challenging, mentally and emotionally, and it especially can be an isolating experience. And we, graduate students, can really suffer when we are isolated and we start believing the doubts that we all carry around with us. And I want to be crystal clear – we all spend the majority of our time, all the time, trying to convince other people that we are not, in fact, plagued by self doubt, completely underwater, with no idea what we are doing, and half convinced that we have made a terrible, terrible mistake. All of us. All the time. Seriously. It’s real. And I bring it up to make the point that if you are feeling that now, or if you feel it later, then you are not alone. In fact, you have joined one of the biggest groups of people who are also feeling that that I know of, so in fact by that definition you totally belong here, even more than the confident ones (if any of them really exist). In fact, the doubt will make you work harder, and be better leaders, and perhaps be more compassionate people. The doubt is good, to a point. The problem is that it can turn on you if you treat it like something wrong to be feeling, something to hide, something to run from. It’s not, it’s normal, and saying that is the first step towards dealing with it.
Now I want to be able to say that if you overcome the internal challenges you will be fine, that anybody who is here has the same chance to succeed and to have the things that education promises – the enrichment, the advancement, the improvement, and the enjoyment. But I have to acknowledge that there are barriers to those promises in this world – barriers that are not fairly distributed, based on race, based on gender, based on class and on financial resources, and that this school exists in that world and is not immune to those problems. In your time here you may confront some of those barriers, and what I can say is that this place, unlike so many other places, understands that these barriers exist and has committed to overcoming them. You need to know that there are resources available to you, and that there are passionate people working to make this place live up to its own ideals, every day, all the time. The challenges are shared by all universities but one special thing about Berkeley specifically is that we talk about them and we deal with them. There are many, many people here who will fight for your success every step of the way through your program. If you have any trouble finding those people, I want to encourage you to reach out. First to talk to your graduate advisor, and if they can’t help, then reach out to the Graduate Assembly, the GA – we know where the resources are and we can put you in touch with folks who will stand up for your success.
Please remember that during your time here, this place belongs to you. You will get through your work by finding community – by finding solidarity. Perhaps with your lab. Perhaps with a group of students who share your interests, or your identities. Perhaps with faculty mentors, and perhaps with your department’s grad advisor. And the reason that I know that this will work is that this is how people who did it before managed to get through it. They did it, and you can do it too.
Coming here and pursuing graduate education, you have taken on an enormous personal challenge. I commend you for it, and I respect you for it. I urge you, then, also, to be good to yourselves and to each other along the way. To support your colleagues. To be a part of, and to build for others, the networks that will make this experience a better one for us all. And to speak up when the world needs changing. And it always needs changing.
Welcome to Berkeley. Thank you.