When Sreyas Sai Samantula first arrived at the University of California-Berkeley in 2015, he had his eyes set on politics after graduation. He was so determined that the summer after his freshman year, he spent nine weeks sleeping on the couch of a family friend while working as a congressional intern.
Samantula says it’s that same determination that has led him down a different path to the Haas School of Business, where he was elected to be the student speaker at the Class of 2019 commencement ceremony last Saturday.
“I feel both honored and privileged to serve as the Class of the 2019 commencement speaker. I am a strong believer that public speaking is one of the most effective mediums of delivering a message, and I am excited to have the opportunity to share my thoughts with my esteemed peers,” Samantula, whose family immigrated from India to Orange County, California, tells Poets&Quants. “The proudest moment of my life thus far was delivering my high school commencement speech in front of my grandmother, and four years later, she is visiting from India again and will get to see me speak at a podium for a second time.”
We spoke to the business administration major with a Certificate in Entrepreneurship and Technology to find out more about his time at Haas, the things he’s learned, and what his plans are.
P&Q: Can you tell us a little about your family?
Samantula: I moved to the United States with my mother in December 1999. My parents made the move as they wanted me to have a better life and education in the States. Before moving to the states, my father was establishing a career in software. My dad came here initially a year earlier to work for a software company in Huntington Beach and I grew up in Orange County.
It was very challenging for my family when we first made the move. When we first immigrated, my mother started working toward her master’s degree by going to evening school. We had no extended family and support network here, and my mother did not have a work permit. My father had to support my mother pursuing her degree as well as my younger sister, who was born in 2001, and I.
My mom worked as a volunteer at a civil engineering firm to gain experience and was hired as a permanent employee under a work permit after 18 months. 18 years later, she now works as a principal civil engineer for the government.
My mother and father sacrificing everything to start life anew here is a constant source of inspiration, teaching me to perpetually pursue my goals despite any challenges and obstacles. I believe perseverance is a requisite to success, and consistency is key in achieving your ambitions.
Why did you choose UC Berkeley?
Haas admissions work a bit differently. You are not automatically admitted to the business school and have to apply at the end of your sophomore year. This was a risk I considered when choosing universities, as there was no guarantee I would be accepted to the business program. At the time, I was deciding between UCLA, Cal, Vanderbilt, NYU Stern, and Michigan Ross. I was seriously considering Stern and Ross as I had been pre-admitted to the business programs.
I ultimately picked Berkeley as it has strong policy and business programs, and these were my two endearing interests. At the time, I wanted to work in politics and I had an especially strong fascination with the intersection of the public and private sectors. I believed this university would allow me to have a more wholesome, and interdisciplinary education, and four years later, I could not be happier with my decision.
I never imagined when I was accepted to Haas that I would be the commencement speaker. I always have had a love for public speaking and believe it is the most effective medium to incite change and deliver a message.
Tell us a little about your high school experience.
I am a very proud alum of Irvine High School (I was actually the commencement speaker for my graduating class in 2015!). High school was such a formative time, and I had the opportunity to learn from excellent public school instructors. Their guidance and instruction allowed me to build a strong academic foundation, and one high school takeaway that has helped me tremendously at Haas is to perpetually strive for excellence. No matter your profession or industry, always put forth the best effort in whatever task you are presented.
What do you feel you were missing when you first got to Cal?
Maturity! When I started my freshman year at Cal, I was a naïve 17-year-old who thought he was more than ready to take on the world. Looking back, I realize I could not have been more wrong. Over the past four years, I have grown so much personally and professionally, and I am so grateful to have spent my college years in an environment (Berkeley & Haas) that refined my development and molded me into a capable young adult.