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UC Berkeley’s Top Graduating Senior Soars Despite Tragic Loss



By Yasmin Anwar, UC Berkeley News

The Earth could use a tough litigator like Radhika Kannan, who was just named UC Berkeley’s top graduating senior. She dazzles whether she’s defending the environment or performing a classical Indian dance.

But beneath the eloquent voice and flashing dark eyes, a deep well of sorrow propels Kannan, 21, to carry out a career plan she made with her mother, Geetanjali, who died suddenly and inexplicably at age 45 during Kannan’s junior year.

How Kannan coped with the 2013 loss of her mother – who was her mentor and best friend – and then went on

to graduate with the highest distinction in economics, conservation studies and a near-perfect GPA, is a marvel of personal fortitude and determination.

“Her resolve to excel academically despite this blow, and to continue to provide emotional support for the rest of her family, truly reflects the intensity of Radhika’s will and the strength of her spirit,” wrote Kate O’Neill, associate professor of environmental science, policy and management, in her letter recommending Kannan for the University Medal.

UC Berkeley’s University Medal honors outstanding scholarship, public service and strength of character, and comes with a $2,500 award. As this year’s recipient, Kannan will address thousands of her peers on Saturday, May 16, at a commencement ceremony at Memorial Stadium. Her speech, she says, will touch on the unpredictability of life, a topic close to her heart.

“As a Cal grad, you really want to be prepared, but sometimes you just can’t be,” says Kannan. “Always know that your Cal family is there for you, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

This fall, Kannan is headed for the University of Oxford in England for a master’s degree, after which she will pursue a law degree at Columbia University. She has her late mother to thank for setting her on this path to success.

“My mom had the clairvoyance to know what I’d be passionate about. She knew me better than anyone,” says Kannan. “We made this plan, and I’m going to stick to it because it’s a good plan.”

Kannan was born in Mumbai, India, in 1993, the only child of Kannan Subramanian Ramakrishnan, a chartered accountant and software entrepreneur, and Geetanjali Kannan, a schoolteacher and dancer trained in Bharathanatyam, a style that originated in the temples of Tamil Nadu.

Both mother and daughter studied with the same dance teacher.

The family moved to Singapore when Kannan was 3, and continued to shuttle back and forth between India and Singapore, which meant Kannan changed schools a half-dozen times.

“Every time I switched schools I would start from scratch, and would have to learn the culture of the school, how different teachers worked, how to get into an inner circle of friends,” she says. “It made me a flexible person and more outgoing.”

Climate change hits close to home for Kannan, who grew up in countries plagued by droughts and floods. She was 10 when the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami of 2004 narrowly missed her island state of Singapore.

“I’m driven by a threat to my security and the need to protect people and countries vulnerable to climate change,” she says.

When she was in sixth grade, the family moved to Bangalore, India, and Kannan stepped up her academic game. That competitiveness stuck, she says.

Back in Singapore in high school, she joined the Model United Nations, a program that teaches the diplomatic skills used in international relations. She learned how to write resolutions, pass an amendment and listen to all points of view. She also developed lasting friendships and a desire to travel beyond Asia.

When it came time to go to college, Berkeley was among her top choices. A generous financial-aid package, bolstered by a Regents’ and Chancellor’s Scholarship, eased the decision.

But it was the Cal mascot that sealed the deal for the Kannan family, who had long nicknamed themselves “the three bears.”

“When we found out the mascot at Cal is a bear, I was like, ‘OK, this is it. I’m going to be a Bear for the rest of my life,’” she says.

Bay Area

Bay Area’s Black Fraternities and Sororities Award $180,000 in Scholarships

Graduating seniors from all over the Bay Area as well as continuing college students were recognized for their academic achievements by the member organizations.



Photo courtesy of NPHC facebook

On June 6, the San Francisco Bay Area National Pan Hellenic Council held its annual scholarship reception virtually where over 100 students were awarded a total of $180,000 in scholarships.

Chaired by Dr. Joseph Marshall, the SF Bay NPHC is comprised of 25 chapters of the nine historically Black fraternities and sororities – Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, and Iota Phi Theta Fraternity.

Graduating seniors from all over the Bay Area as well as continuing college students were recognized for their academic achievements by the member organizations.

Recipients will be attending a wide variety of schools including HBCUs, prestigious colleges and local institutions like Howard University, Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, UC Berkeley, San Francisco State and Cal State East Bay.

In addition to the scholarships awarded by the individual chapters, the council awarded the Mrs. Bethola Harper Scholarships and the two SF Bay NPHC book scholarships.

Brigitte Cook is the vice president of the NPHC.

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Rent Relief in California: Understanding the State’s Program and How You Can Apply

Based on income level, qualified applicants can receive assistance with unpaid rent and utilities and with future payments.




Due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, paying rent has become a real struggle for millions of Californians. But help is available to renters and landlords through the CA COVID-19 Rent Relief program. 

Based on income level, qualified applicants can receive assistance with unpaid rent and utilities and with future payments.

Funding comes from the $2.6 billion in federal emergency rental assistance provided to support both state and local rent relief programs in California. The CA COVID-19 Rent Relief program isn’t the sole resource for rent relief for California renters and landlords; many cities and counties are either currently administering their own rent relief programs – or launching one soon.

Cities and counties with populations greater than 200,000 are employing one of three rent relief options: option A) the state-administered CA COVID-19 Rent Relief program; option B) a local city- or county-administered program using the same eligibility criteria as option A; and option C) a local city-or county-administered program using different eligibility criteria, in some cases, in combination with a portion administered by the state.

While the programs vary, the goals are the same: Keep people housed and provide quick assistance to those at the highest risk of eviction.

To simplify access to rent relief programs in California, the state launched The website directs renters and landlords to the programs that they may qualify for based on where they live. After applicants provide the address of their rental property (landlords) or their residents (renters), they are sent to a website where they can review eligibility criteria and complete an application. Applicants can also call the CA COVID-19 Rent Relief Call Center (833-430-2122) to find out which program to apply for and get help in a variety of languages.

Who’s eligible for the CA COVID-19 Rent Relief Program

Renters who have suffered a financial hardship because of COVID-19 and are behind on rent or utilities (or need help paying upcoming bills) are eligible to apply. They must have an Area Median Income (AMI) below 80% for the county they live in (this amount is calculated for the applicant during the application process). Either a renter or a landlord can initiate an application, online or through the call center, and both are encouraged to participate to maximize the amount of assistance received. The state’s program is prioritizing applications from households at the highest risk of eviction – those under 50% of the Area Median Income.

Landlords participating in the program receive 80% of an eligible tenant’s unpaid rent accrued between April 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021, if they agree to waive the remaining 20% of unpaid rent. Renters whose landlords choose not to participate in the program can apply directly, and receive 25% of unpaid rent accrued between April 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021, which can help protect them from eviction under SB 91 if they pay that 25% directly to their landlords. Renters can also apply to receive financial assistance with future rent. They may also qualify for assistance with unpaid or future utility payments.

Applicant information is kept private. Renter’s information will not be shared with the landlord, and vice versa. Applicants may be eligible to participate in the program regardless of immigration status and proof of citizenship is not required. Rent relief assistance does not count as earned income and will not interfere with eligibility for any other state benefit assistance programs such as CalFresh.

The CA COVID-19 Rent Relief program is supported through a $3 million public education and outreach campaign, which includes radio, digital media, out-of-home, and print advertising. Thousands of statewide community-based organizations, trade and industry groups and businesses have been enlisted to assist with outreach to communities most in need. The state has also allocated $24 million to support on-the-ground organizations to work directly with applicants in communities throughout the state. To make an appointment with a local organization, applicants are encouraged to call 833-687-0967.

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Bay Area

CupCakin Bakeshop in Berkeley

The menu features multiple tasty flavors of cupcakes daily, and the shop also offers catering services and online orders.



CupCakin Bakeshop is a Back-owned bakery at 2391 Telegraph Ave. in  Berkeley, open from Sunday through Thursday 11 a.m.-6 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 11 a.m.-7 p.m. for deliveries and takeout orders. 

The menu features multiple tasty flavors of cupcakes daily, and the shop also offers catering services and online orders. CupCakin Bakeshop  gives donations to different organizations and hospitals all over the Bay Area. Follow the shop on social media to learn more about the donations or take a glimpse of their yummy treats @CupCakinBakeShop Instagram page. Placeorders online at


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