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“Pursue Your Dreams Fearlessly”: An Entrepreneur’s Wisdom for Graduating Scholars

May 17, 2021

Chris Ategeka ’11, M.S. ’12 is an award-winning entrepreneur, author, and philanthropist. He is the founder and CEO of UCOT Inc., a company with a unique model creating solutions for the unintended consequences of technology. His forthcoming book, The Unintended Consequences of Technology, deals with the same subject. Ategeka also founded Health Access Corps, which uses local talent to combat the shortage of healthcare services in underserved areas of Africa. He was named to Forbes’ 2014 30 Under 30 list and is an Ashoka Fellow, TED Fellow, and World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. In 2021, UC Berkeley and the Cal Alumni Association honored Ategeka with the Mark Bingham Award for Excellence in Achievement by Young Alumni, which commends young alumni who have made significant contributions to their community, country, or the world at large.

As a former Achievement Award Program (TAAP) Scholar, Ategeka returned to offer support for 50 graduating TAAP Scholars at a recent Senior Brunch event. Since 1999, the Cal Alumni Association has awarded more than 500 Cal students from low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented communities with a TAAP scholarship. According to Chris, the TAAP community supported his dreams and made them a reality. Below is an excerpt from his address.

Hello, family, friends, donors, and TAAP Scholars. Congratulations, Class of 2021. Today is a day of celebration, a day you’ve been waiting for since you entered Cal. As a former TAAP Scholar, it’s an honor to be here and celebrate with you. Ten years ago, I was exactly where you are right now: graduating with big dreams and aspirations ahead. Reflecting on the last decade, a few things have happened in my life. Lots of trials, lots of failures, and some wins. Allow me to share with you some of my learnings.

As you dare to dream, always remember you are an engine. If you are not functioning right, nothing else matters. People like us, who come from certain backgrounds, carry a lot of weight. Those are the cards we were dealt. Pressure from parents or even yourself to get a good-paying job and succeed are very high. But if expectations are not met, that can cause a feeling of failure, letting people down, and mental health issues. It’s very easy to forget yourself in pursuit of the world to meet these high expectations. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that health matters. Take care of your mental health, physical health, and spiritual health.

Photo of Chris Ategeka with his moped project
Ategeka with his moped project. Image courtesy of Chris Ategeka

As you dare to dream, remember that life is not fair. When I was a little boy, both my parents died. Shortly after, my brother died. All this sent me into a downward spiral of homelessness, eating out of trash cans, and deep suffering. I had to figure out a way to navigate life, because
you cannot fight what you cannot change. Learn to recognize what’s in your control. If you find yourself looking down the barrel of injustice and inequity, channel that anger and rage toward making life easier and better for one person. Ease someone’s pain and work toward closing that inequity gap. Change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes many nights of blood, sweat, and tears. If you do your part and I do mine, the whole will be greater than the sum of our individual contributions. And together, we will make the world better.

Photo of Chris Ategeka speaking at UCOT
Ategeka speaking at UCOT. Image courtesy of Chris Ategeka

As you dare to dream, if you find yourself walking through hell of any kind, keep walking. The fire burns hotter when you stand still. Since you are TAAP Scholars graduating from Cal, you already experienced parts of this—and kept walking. The truth is that no one is immune to hardships. As Oscar Wilde once said, “Everything is going to be fine in the end. If it’s not fine, it’s not the end.”

As you dare to dream, a shared joy is double joy; a shared sorrow is half a sorrow. Graduates, as you go out into the world, build community. It’s the time to look for and join circles of people that inspire you, build you up, and make you better.

Graduates, as you go out into the world, build community. It’s the time to look for and join circles of people that inspire you, build you up, and make you better.

As you aspire to dream, just know that a path is made by simply walking. One foot in front of the other. One act after another. Success comes with some level of inconvenience. You’ve got to put in the hours. Ideas do not get funded; being smart does not get you a job. Whatever you want to accomplish, dream it. Write down a date for it, break it down into manageable steps, and take action.

What you see in yourself is what the world sees in you. All of us are looking for similar things: security, safety, belonging, and purpose. In pursuit of all this, be confident but stay humble. Assume the best in people, but sometimes you may have to revisit that “assumption of positive intent.” There will be many instances in your professional lives where people will use you, take advantage of you, and downright abuse you if they know they can get away with it. Stand up for yourself. Set boundaries and keep them.

Furthermore, imposter syndrome is real. Some of you can’t believe you’ve just graduated; you doubt your abilities and feel like a fraud. I am here to tell you that you are not. You deserve it. And here is the bigger secret, whoever has had big aspirations or did something novel has felt like an imposter. It affects high-achieving people, like you, who find it difficult to accept their accomplishments. Many question whether they’re deserving of accolades. Again, it’s real. You did it. You deserve it. Be kind to yourself. What you see in yourself is what the world sees in you.

Happiness depends on gratitude. It’s noticeable to see how good you had it when things are hurting. You would be in the shower and all of sudden you notice something hurts. Or most people remember God after a diagnosis of bad news. Please find time to be grateful for what you have. Find time to celebrate, reflect on, and give gratitude to people in your life, past and present, whose shoulders you stand on. The silent giants who have loved us, supported us, nurtured us, and believed in us.

Congratulations, Class of 2021. Keep making us proud.

Chris Ategeka ’11, M.S. ’12: “Pursuing Your Dreams Fearlessly”

Learn more about The Achievement Award Program and the bright undergraduate Alumni Scholars it supports.

Chris Ategeka ’11, M.S. ’12 | Cal Alumni Association