Thousands were congregated one Saturday morning in the bleachers of Memorial Stadium to hear a few glorious seconds of their graduate’s name called out, to see their graduate’s cap and gown breeze by on the large projection screens. Gazing into the crowd, trying to imagine the emotions running through each individual, was overwhelming.
As a volunteer at U.C. Berkeley’s May General Commencement for the Class of 2013, I witnessed the workings of the show from backstage: Lining up chairs for 3900 graduates, organizing the students into groups led by large clusters of colored balloons, anticipating the advent of Cal Band onto the field, spotting the keynote speaker Steve Wozniak at the end of the stage party procession, and trying (and failing) to get a photograph with him.
Eight hours after arriving to organize volunteers from The Californians – the little organization that could which plays the largest role of any student group on campus in planning the University’s general commencements – I found myself sitting on a nearly empty stage, gazing into a nearly empty stadium. Odd that in that moment I felt a greater sense of immediacy than when I first gazed out into the crowd in the morning. The graduates had walked. The ceremony was over. The fourth years I knew had moved their tassles into adulthood, I was now a bona-fide senior at Cal, and last – and most unbelievably – I would be sitting on this very stage in about one year, as the President of May Commencement.
But, if I’ve learned anything from my first year as a student of Haas, it is that with the right vision and the right people, we can breach momentous obstacles and accomplish great things.
First, the vision: A community of undergraduates united around Haas’ Four Defining Principles – where competition plays second fiddle to the teamwork and shared motivation that distinguishes Haas from the business programs around the nation and around the world; where social and professional development feed into one another in order to enrich the student experience. The right people: those students who observe the Defining Principles, who place importance in their studies and communities and strive to affect change for the better, change that extends beyond their spheres of comfort, all with quiet confidence.
The Cohort Program, revamped this academic year, seeks to make this vision more tangible by holding events that bring the undergraduate community together. Just this past spring, the program organized a Marketing Case Competition that encouraged current Haas undergraduates to work with the incoming Class of 2015, a basketball game outing that drew over 50 Haas students out from Cheit Hall and BoA Forum watch our beloved Warriors pound the court at Oracle Arena, and – of course – the 1st Annual Cohort Charity Gala. Drawing over 200 Haas undergraduates and their friends from a wide array of majors, with music provided by Haas’ very own Mike Teez, the Gala was the Program’s most successful event to date – proving that Haas undergrads are more than willing to engage with one another in a celebratory environment; it’s not all competition and cutting throats. Perhaps more importantly, the Gala raised over $1000 to donate to Not For Sale, a charity that works to fight human trafficking across the globe. The Cohort Program, having found its sea footing, is now sailing through waters no other undergraduate-organized group has quite navigated. With what is sure to be a newly established tradition for the undergraduate program in the form of the Gala and an incoming group of intelligent, determined Cohort Leaders for the Class of 2015, the Cohort Program will be something to watch in the coming year.
Now back to the right people. Or rather, the right person. I’m speaking of the underappreciated spearhead of the Haas Undergraduate Blog, the now former President of HBSA, the man whose vision and dedication revived the Cohort Program, and to those who know him well, a most beloved and caring friend, Tyler Wishnoff. It would require another post (or, quite frankly, a novel) for me to convey the impact Tyler has had on me, on the group of 2014 Cohort Leaders, on the Undergraduate Program at Haas, and on everyone he has come into contact within the course of his time at Cal. So here is an anecdote – just a micro example of how the right people can make a true difference on those around them.
I was with one of my good friends and fellow Cohort Leader, and as is bound to happen, conversation drifted to the subject of our joint involvement, specifically, the Charity Gala. The typical topics came up: organization, funding, team dynamics, deltas and pluses. All the while I was harboring a certain memory of a particular moment during the event – when Tyler said that the Gala was the most successful event the Undergraduate Program he has seen; that he was impressed by the work the Cohort Program had been able to accomplish in just two semesters. That moment, along with seeing Tyler truly unwind and have fun, seemed the culmination of my first year at Haas, as an introvert making my way through the major, as a blogger, and as a member of the Cohort Program. My friend, too, expressed a similar sentiment – that somehow the greatest sense of accomplishment was derived from seeing Tyler’s huge smile that evening.
Again and again, I discovered this feeling was shared among all the Cohort Leaders. Even those who don’t know him personally, those who may just hear of his contributions via others, or even those who only briefly heard him speak as head of the Senior Gift Committee at General Commencement, and again at the Haas Undergraduate Ceremony, there is no doubt that Tyler is someone of great consequence, who has made a lasting mark on Haas and on the people around him.
It has been over a week since those 3900 seniors walked down across the stage to Pomp and Circumstance. I stood up from that seat on that nearly empty stage, took one last, long look at that nearly empty stadium, and followed the path so many graduates had traveled: down the ramp from the stage, through the field, under the 2013 balloon arch, and out the gate into the bright, intimidating, and unpredictable world beyond Berkeley. Still, I’m missing a sense of closure – of finality. They say all great things must come to an end; I can’t say I fully agree.
That anthem is still ringing in my ears – a reminder of what is to come and what needs to be accomplished in the summer months, into the next year. With great vision, and great people, I can’t help but expect greater things.
Photos courtesy of The Californians’ Class of 2014 Senior Class Council and the Haas School of Business Undergraduate Program