Commencement Address 2021 by Tamara Lundgren ’74

A WORD OF ADVICE: Alumni Tamara L. Lundgren ’74 shares her favorite quote with the class of 2021, stating, “failing in life is inevitable, staying down is optional.”

Congratulations to the class of 2021. It is an honor to be your commencement speaker today, and it is a joy to be here in person, inside, and all the ways to open a commencement speech. I am so glad that this one won’t have to start with questions like, “Am I on mute? Is my camera working?” But I have no illusions about my significance here. I’ve been a graduate three times myself, from Berkeley, from college and from law school. And I’ll be perfectly honest, I can’t remember a single one of my commencement speakers. So I don’t expect my fate as your commencement speaker today to be any different, except perhaps with one of you: Audrey Adler, class of 21, is my niece and Audrey, I hope when you’re my age, at least, you will remember that I was here with you today, and how proud I am of you and everyone in your class. 

Every graduation represents a remarkable achievement, but what you, the class of 2021, has achieved is exceptional. The COVID-19 pandemic began in the spring of your junior year, and at some level, each of you probably faced fear, anxiety, ambiguity and loss. These are experiences that come with life over time, but are rarely presented to 16 to 18 year olds in such a concentrated way over a single 15-month period. But here you are. Because not even a pandemic could stop the class of 2021. But of course, you didn’t do it alone. You have the help of another extraordinary group, the parents of the class of 21. Moms and Dads, I know these past 15 months have probably felt like 15 years. You followed the news, you kept up with health guidelines and protocols, you stocked up on toilet paper for reasons that still remain unclear to me. And your children look to you to see if everything was going to be okay. And you had to act like you knew it would be. So parents of the class of 2021, you also aced the senior year. 

And we can’t talk about aces without bringing up the teachers of the class of 21. I mean, where can I begin? You measured the distance between desks, you became a de facto CDC representative, you kept the classroom sanitized and you kept your own sanity. You did all the hard work of teaching, but backwards and wearing N95s. Teachers of the class of 2021, you earned all the extra credits because this class, each one of these students is uniquely positioned to execute on Berkeley’s mission of putting people in the world who make a positive difference. I’d like to take a moment to thank you for making this happen. Against all odds.

So you ought to be proud of making it to this moment. It’s been a year of tremendous challenges. But in spite of that, and even because of that I think the class of 21 is uniquely prepared for the future, not just for the next four years of college. Your generation has been tested, unlike any other. Whether you know it yet or not, you’ve learned one of the most essential lessons for success; however you define it at a very early stage in your life and in a very short time. You’ve learned how to be nimble, how to navigate change. Since COVID struck, you’ve been forced to adapt to shifting conditions in real time. Even when you didn’t know how long they would last or where they would lead, you lived in a time when countless routines had to be reimagined overnight, and you learned to improvise when faced with limitations. You’ve learned to make the very most of what you have, and most importantly, because of what you’ve been through, you’ll never simply accept that the way things are, are the way they have to be. You’ll be more willing to question convention and look for positive, transformative change. You are uniquely prepared to see the world that is innovating faster than ever. The next four years will go by in a blur. You’ll be challenged in ways that will surprise you, however, from the first day you’ve arrived here, Berkeley has been preparing for this journey to independence. You’ve learned the importance of integrity, you’ve learned how to balance competing demands on your time and you’ve learned the value of being part of a community. 

First about integrity: At college, you’ll be establishing your reputation for the first time as an independent adult. This reputation may be better, or maybe worse. It may be the same or it may be different from your reputation in high school. But no matter what, it will be one of your most important possessions. Develop it carefully and treat it with respect. 

Warren Buffett was once asked about what he looks for when he’s hiring someone. He said you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence and energy. And if you don’t see the first one, integrity, the other two will kill you. There will be times in your life when you’re tempted to cut corners, to hang back, to take the easy way out, but expediency doesn’t make life easier, what makes life easier is doing the right thing even when it’s hard. Berkeley has prepared you for this.

 Second, managing the intersections in your life. You’ve learned how to balance competing demands between studying and hanging out with friends. Between doing things with your family versus doing things with your friends. Between spending money now, or saving money for something later. Your life in high school was full of decisions that you had to make, which will influence all sorts of outcomes at college. You’ll have all those decisions to make, but with more choices and potentially higher consequences. Whether it’s choosing a new group of friends, what your major will be, which professors you select to teach you, which parties you elect to attend, what fraternities or sororities or other groups you decide to join – I can go on and on. Balancing opportunities with smart choices is something you’ll be faced with every day of your college life. 

In fact, learning how to balance today’s needs with tomorrow’s opportunities is something that will serve you well throughout your life. There’s an old saying that I often repeat to my executive team: keep one eye on the microscope and the other eye on the telescope. Berkeley has prepared you for this. 

And third, about the value of community. If this year has taught us anything, it’s how powerful communication and collaboration can be in solving problems and making things happen. The development of the COVID-19 vaccine is a great example of how collaboration and communication, among teams that typically didn’t work together or historically didn’t work well together, accelerated an outcome that might otherwise have taken decades to occur. As you heard, just before me, no one really succeeds alone, so seek out opportunities to connect with people and cultures, different from your own, and commit to finding common ground on the issues that divide you and to unite behind your shared values. Berkeley has prepared you for this. 

More than anything else, college is a time to learn about yourself, who you are, what you value, what brings you joy and what role you want to play in the world. These next four years will be your time to dream big and to lay the groundwork for making your dreams come true. And if you want inspiration about dreaming big, just look around you. When I was in your shoes. Berkeley Prep was located in a converted hotel on Davis Island. There were 40 people in my graduating class, and if we wanted certain extra curricular activities or even certain uniforms, we had to raise the money to pay for them ourselves. Now, you have this world class campus with a faculty and a student body to match. When I was in your shoes, Tampa was stagnant. We had no national sports team. Now, Tampa is dominant: the Rays went to the World Series, the Lightning won the Stanley Cup and are contending again and the Buccaneers are the Super Bowl champions. Meanwhile, folks are scrambling to move here, and Axios publishes a daily newsletter just about Tampa. 

These changes happened because people saw beyond the status quo. They saw pathways to opportunities and dedicated themselves to pursuing their plans until they achieved their dreams. And most importantly, they did not let fear of failure paralyze them throughout life. We all make mistakes and encounter the deeds, but the most successful people learn how to turn their mistakes and defeats into positive and useful lessons. 

One of my favorite quotes from a three time Olympian sums that up very well: “failing in life is inevitable, staying down is optional.” So now it’s your turn. The next chapter is yours to imagine and create. 

Remember this, you are one of the best prepared classes to take on the adventures of college and beyond. Above all, maintain your integrity. Keep an eye on the balance in your life, and stay connected. You’re ready for whatever comes your way. Enjoy every moment, and thank you again for letting me be with you today. Congratulations, class of 2021.