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Jayden Zheng poses outside Bancroft Library wearing his graduation stole. Jayden Zheng ’23. / Hey Zinah Photography

Becoming Yourself through the Struggle

Senior Jayden Zheng ’23 credits the Alumni Scholars Program for his future in the biotech industry. Below is an excerpt from his speech delivered at the 2023 TAAP Senior Brunch.

May 30, 2023

My name is Jayden, and I am honored to be a UC Berkeley Alumni Scholar. This fall, I will graduate with bachelor’s degrees in economics and data science. Today, we celebrate the theme of “becoming.” There are two critical aspects to “becoming”: knowing what motivates you and how to become your better self. I want to share how UC Berkeley has continuously inspired me to reach my goals.

At the beginning of my journey, UC Berkeley played an important role in helping me understand what wakes me up in the morning and gets me working. A little bit about myself—I am a first-generation student from a low-income immigrant family. Upon arriving in the United States, I worked as a cashier at a grocery store for two years in Los Angeles. Due to the culture shock and language barrier, I found it hard to mingle with my co-workers. I also felt deeply self-abased for being introverted, dull, and broke. Nothing changed until I transferred to UC Berkeley from my community college.

 “Excellent people will not disrespect you for your background here at Berkeley—unless you wear a red hoodie from another university in the Bay.”

Jayden Zheng ’23
Jayden poses with his father, Kevin Zheng.
Jayden with his father, Kevin Zheng. Jayden shaped his goals and found his his motivation at UC Berkeley./ Hey Zinah Photography

In my first semester here, I was honored to be chosen as an Alumni Scholar for my hard work in community college. I still remember meeting my fellow peers in the program for the first time who had similar backgrounds. We were standing in a circle, talking. Their confident smiles and eye contact showed that they paid attention when I spoke, consistently conveying that my background should not keep me from becoming excellent. Excellent people will not disrespect you for your background here at Berkeley—unless you wear a red hoodie from another university in the Bay. From then on, I gradually realized that my background and experience are an asset to me that I could share with other students.

By doing this, I even had the opportunity to reflect on my experiences and better understand where my strengths, weaknesses, and passions lie. I learned how to utilize them to become my better self and reach my goals. “Becoming” a better self is not just possible, but a mission.

My favorite approach is “trying” when it comes to becoming my better self. If you are a soccer fan, you might remember that at the 2010 FIFA soccer World Cup, this amazing octopus almost hit all the predictions. Octopuses are incredibly intelligent creatures who learn from their mistakes and adapt their behavior accordingly. They try different strategies that don’t work, but keep trying and eventually discover the solution. I like seeing myself as an octopus sometimes.

“For me, struggling has been a must-be in the process of trying things out and filling the missing yet important part of my qualities and skills.”

Jayden Zheng ’23

In one of my computer science classes last semester, I spent a full three days and nights brainstorming and writing codes on a single project, only to find out that my strategy didn’t work, and that I must start all over. It was a total nightmare and so painful that I almost swore never to touch a computer again. However, looking back, without this experience, I would never have known the importance of how to break a big plan into pieces and get to know how to solve very tough and ambiguous problems in such a real way. As an octopus, I am making one of my tentacles longer so that I can cover a wider range in the future. On the other hand, when I am trying new things, I grow more and more tentacles so that I can perform more complex tasks even when I have never encountered them before.

Jayden Zheng speaking at the 2023 Senior Brunch ceremony.
“I want to share how UC Berkeley has continuously inspired me to reach my goals,” says Jayden Zheng at the 2023 Senior Brunch ceremony. / Hey Zinah Photography

One thing to note is that this comes at the cost of many struggles. A statement from my data class syllabus this semester said: “It’s normal to struggle. Berkeley has high standards, which is one of the reasons its degrees are valued. Everyone struggles, even though many try not to show it.”

For me, struggling has been a must-be in the process of trying things out and filling the missing yet important part of my qualities and skills. I encountered many problems that I might face in the future and solved them at a much lower cost in advance. Along with the class structures and opportunities on campus, our school enables us to gain rich hands-on and in-depth experiences in a specific field and draw a vivid picture of its real-world application in professional workplaces and research. In a word, we all become better octopuses at UC Berkeley!

This summer, I will be working as a cybersecurity intern at Roche, a biotech company in Santa Clara. I am looking forward to adding value to the biotech field. I highly value innovation in this field and believe that my work would be meaningful in making contributions to the health of all human beings. I am very grateful for all the support and resources I received at UC Berkeley because, without them, I couldn’t even dream about my current life and goals.

Jayden Zheng poses with Alumni Scholars Program staff members.
Jayden credits the Alumni Scholars community for showing him that his background was an asset and not a barrier. Here, he stands with Alumni Scholars Program staff members Yoyo, Enrique, and Fritzie (l-r). / Hey Zinah Photography

I want to thank our donors and alumni. Your support means a lot to students with financial hardship. It not only relieves our financial burden and helps us focus on achieving our academic and personal goals, but more importantly, you let us know that we, as Berkeley students, have the responsibility to support future leaders and give back to society, making it a better place for all of us. I would also like to thank all the staff and volunteers at UC Berkeley and the Cal Alumni Association, who put in a lot of effort in providing us with excellent resources and a great atmosphere to learn and grow. To all the 2023 graduates, I would like to congratulate you again on your amazing accomplishments! Let’s stay connected with the Cal Alumni Association in the future, and I wish you all an exciting journey and a bright future after graduation! Thank you, and I hope everyone has a pleasant rest of the day! Golden Bears forever!

Alumni: Learn how you can support The Achievement Award Program.

Students: If you would like to apply for The Achievement Award Program, visit the Cal Alumni Association Application Portal. Open only to prospective first years and junior transfers.