By Jonathan Okanes
Cal Bear Blog
BERKELEY – The smile on the face of Cal’s Hammed Suleman as he delivered the student address at Monday’s Academic Honors Luncheon wouldn’t have been there when he first arrived on campus.
Frankly, Suleman wouldn’t have been up at the podium in the first place. And if he was, he certainly wouldn’t be happy about it.
But Suleman, a jumper for the Bears’ track & field team, has undergone a transformation during his time in Berkeley. He has morphed from a freshman with insecurities both in the classroom and on the track into a graduating senior relishing the opportunity to pursue his education beyond Cal.
“I’ve changed a lot,” Suleman said Monday after also winning the Joseph McDonnell Kavanagh Award for demonstrating improvement in the classroom. “I’ve grown and developed a lot. I kind of use that as motivation to look back and see how much I’ve grown, and there’s so much more room for growth. Berkeley exposes that here.”
Suleman was one of many Cal student-athletes honored at the annual luncheon at Haas Pavilion. Golfer Brandon Hagy and gymnast Alicia Asturias won Tom Hansen Pac-12 Conference Medals. Swimmer Scott Farley and Nicole Larson of the track team earned the Neufeld Scholar-Athlete Award for being the graduating seniors with the highest GPA on campus. Several postgraduate scholarships were handed out, and swimmer Catherine Breed took the Walter A. Haas Jr. Community Service Award.
Suleman was already set to be the student speaker for the luncheon, but just moments before he was due to present his speech, he was surprised by winning the Kavanagh Award.
“I was honestly surprised,” Suleman said. “I was like, ‘Is that just for the speech?’ I was legitimately surprised.”
Suleman acknowledged he was overwhelmed when he first arrived at Cal, both academically and athletically. He also incurred injuries, and the combination of the different adversity had him thinking about transferring.
But things changed near the end of his sophomore year. He started to build relationships with his instructors and leaned on teammates for guidance. Never one to flee when an obstacle arises, Suleman persevered and started to see results.
“Talking to some of my teammates, getting a relationship with my teachers started to motivate me and I was like, ‘I can do this’,” Suleman said. “It was just the amount of time I put in that was really going to show the results. That moment from there on, I wanted to keep this going. I was going to do my best in both, and I really acquired a love for academics.”
That thirst for education has Suleman looking beyond graduation later this month. Indeed, he flashed the brightest smiles of his speech when he talked about his desire to “get more degrees, to obtain more knowledge.” Those are desires Suleman never would have dreamed of when he first got to Berkeley.
“Being here has really pushed me to look beyond the normal standard,” Suleman said. “A lot of people are sufficient with a Cal degree. A Cal degree is nice and I love it and it made me who I am today. But I feel like there’s much more – even getting a master’s degree and PH’d. Berkeley has really shaped me and pushed me to think outside the box and actually achieve where people wouldn’t expect me to achieve.”
Breed has been a tireless contributor to community service during her time at Cal, volunteering at the Children’s Literacy Fair, serving food for the needy at a local church and paying weekly visits to the Boys and Girls Club of Oakland, among other causes. She also spent the past two Spring Breaks helping at schools and orphanages in the Dominican Republic.
For Breed, receiving an honor for community service was simply recognition for something she would do whether she was recognized or not for it. It’s been a balancing act for her to fit community service in with athletic training and schoolwork, but one that completes her.
“It’s really hard, but where some people take naps or want to go to go get dinner or do something to fill themselves up, I choose to do community service to fill myself up,” Breed said. “That’s my reset and my break in the day. It’s hard but it’s rewarding and I make it work.”