Chancellor Jack W. Peltason told about 2,000 UC Irvine graduates Saturday to use their individual talents for the overall betterment of mankind.
"Whatever you choose to do, you're going to have to make it your own individual history," Peltason said. "That history will be the results of each and every one of you. Be conscious of your responsibilities, your places in society."
He underscored his message by citing the achievements of several graduates who had to overcome social and economic difficulties to finish college.
"There are many fascinating stories among you, stories of individual triumph," he said, exhorting students to "lead your lives out there in the world in individual ways."
Andres Papillon of Westminster, an engineering major graduating cum laude, echoed the individualism theme in a speech during the college's 21st commencement ceremony.
"You probably heard the saying, Rome wasn't built in a day," Papillon said. "Well, has it ever occurred to you that it wasn't built in a generation, or two or three?
"Are you going to feed 20 million starving Americans? End all wars in the world? Eliminate pollution? No. But maybe you can do something just as valuable. If you are a doctor, maybe you can save a human life. If you are an artist or performer, maybe you can move someone to tears, or laughter, or thought."
He encouraged graduates to find their place in society by improving their communities.
"Find out who you are. Practice being that person. And don't worry about changing the whole world. Worry about making your own view of the world the best it can be. Because if you're not careful, you might end up like the student who got stuck with a tough, two-sentence exam: 'Define the universe. Give three examples,' " he said. Just greeting a neighbor can be a good start, he said.
The university awarded 2,380 degrees, including 1,896 bachelor's, 283 master's, 120 doctoral and 81 medical degrees. Twenty students graduated summa cum laude, the highest honor, 59 magna cum laude and 162 cum laude.
The UCI College of Medicine held its commencement Friday evening at Aldrich Park on the university campus. Dr. Robert Moser, executive vice president of the American College of Physicians in Philadelphia, addressed the ceremony. Senior class co-presidents Gregory Meyer of Merced and Peter Hanson of San Diego also spoke.