After years of hard work and personal growth, graduating from college can bring a mix of emotions, from pride and nostalgia to fear and excitement about what lies ahead. It also brings a special day when, at Berkeley, some 5,000 graduates and over 40,000 guests gather for a formal procession, speeches, performances, and more to mark this momentous occasion.
The campuswide commencement ceremony began in 1873. During a portion of World War II, the university maintained an accelerated program of three terms yearly, and each term ended with a “graduation convocation.” The campuswide event was suspended in 1970 because of campus unrest, at which time individual departments and affinity groups began holding their own ceremonies, a practice that continues today. (More than 200 members of the Class of 1970 returned in 1990 for a belated ceremony before a Cal-UCLA football game.) The campuswide ceremony was restored in the early 90s, giving students the added opportunity to experience the joy and meaning of commencement with everyone graduating that year, not only those in their department.
Berkeley stopped conferring honorary degrees on commencement speakers in 1972 — with one exception. In 2009, the university honored 42 former students whose studies had been cut short nearly seven decades before, when Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps during World War II. Under President Franklin Roosevelt’s order, some 120,000 individuals — more than 2,500 of whom were students at California public colleges and universities — were forced to leave their homes, farms, and businesses for fairgrounds, migrant quarters, and other facilities in the interior. UC estimates that the internment impacted close to 700 Japanese American students on four of its campuses, about 500 of them at Berkeley. Acknowledging their struggle and perseverance in rebuilding their lives, the honorary diplomas bestowed in 2009 were inscribed with the Latin phrase Honoris causa inter silbas academi restituere justitiam — ”to restore justice among the groves of the academy.”