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Young People
Admittedly, I don’t think I’m old enough to get an award like this - but it was still a great honour to receive the International House “2019 Alumna of the Year” from the Chancellor of Berkeley, Carol Christ, and the Director of International House, Hans Giesecke. The award was to “recognize Oona’s work as a member of the British Parliament, her advocacy for human rights, and her visionary leadership as the Director of Diversity Strategy at Google.”
I was asked at the Gala Dinner to explain how I’d got my scholarship to Berkeley, which led to “the best year of my life”. The answer’s simple: I got rejected by Oxford University, which meant I attended York University instead - and York offered this scholarship program.
 
I explained to the students during the event: you always need things to go wrong for things to go right. All of life is a test to see how well you turn bad luck to good. And I always quote Oprah Winfrey that luck is merely ‘the intersection of preparation and opportunity.’” Get prepared, put yourself out there, and luck will follow.
As for International House - being a student there changed my world forever. I made lifelong friends. I made the decision to focus entirely on politics and give up philosophy (despite the best efforts of Berkeley’s world-renowned Philosophy Scholars who taught me)! When I was asked what I remembered most, I was ashamed to answer “the parties”. I wanted to give a more impressive answer like “championing Berkeley’s reputation as a university for political change.” Then I saw the former Director of International House, Joe Lurie. I hadn’t seen Joe in 30 years. 
 
“Oona!” he said, throwing his arms around me. “I’ve always remembered you!” I gave him a hug and said “yeah, right, amazing to see you too, but I don’t believe for a second that you could remember me!! There were hundreds of students, but only one Director... And then he said “I always remember you Oona because we had a big controversial meeting on campus with the (Holocaust-denying) historian David Irvine. I will never forget the moment when you stood up in front of hundreds of people and excoriated him! And after you spoke, others found the courage to speak out too.”
So Joe, sincere thanks for giving me that glimpse of my student-self, which I had entirely forgotten. It means soooo much to know that I wasn’t just messing about with the Tequila Cocktails! In short, I had a truly memorable evening at International House, and it was amazing to meet the students, staff, Chancellor, board members and faculty who all contribute to making Berkeley one of the most incredible universities in the world. Thank you!