Commencement 2023

Commencement speaker: Nicole Rene Straley, MA + Teaching Credential

Pandemic prompts a career pivot for BTEP's Straley 

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Commencement address co-presented with Candace Walker (09:53)

BSE Commencement speaker Nicole Rene Straley — a graduate of the Berkeley Teacher Education Program — immersed herself in “The Great Courses” online classes in chemistry, biology, music theory, and more through the pandemic. 

“I was telling my husband about everything I was learning,” Straley said with a laugh. “He said, ‘You know, if you become a teacher, you’ll have a captive audience for six hours a day!’” 

Straley was always drawn to a career in service to others, whether in customer service at Wells Fargo bank or assisting the Chief Budget Officer in Piedmont Unified School District, and most recently as the school secretary at Piedmont Middle School. In the midst of the pandemic, her proclivity for service curved toward teaching. 

“I think it’s Covid that really changed my trajectory,” said Straley, who has a BA in psychology from UC Riverside. “I have always been this passive recipient in life and opportunities have just kind of come to me. When Covid happened and we were sheltering in place, a lot of things came to a stop. I had time to reflect on what I was doing and to what end.” 

This new manifestation of her mission wouldn’t crystallize until she had a two-hour Zoom call with Berkeley Teacher Education Program (BTEP) lecturer Nives Wetzel de Cediel who ultimately suggested Straley apply to Berkeley — and fast. She had just five days before the deadline. 

“I am trying to be a different person, who doesn’t have to be perfectly prepared for the opportunities to come my way,” said Straley, who laughs at how she doubted she would get the application in on time, doubted she would be accepted to BTEP, and doubted she would pass the California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET) test. “I felt like the universe in some strange way was letting it unfold.” 

Even as it unfolded, it was by no means easy. During the academic year, Straley worked from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. as school secretary at Piedmont Middle School; 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. as a student teacher at the school (an opportunity the school afforded her when she was accepted into BTEP); 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. again as school secretary; and then to class at Berkeley School of Education until 7:30 p.m., on many days.

The intense work paid off. This fall, Straley has a post as a health sciences teacher at Piedmont Middle School, working with the 7th graders she taught during student teaching the year before. Three jobs will become one. And bonus: there’s no homework. 

She’s now trying to see herself as others see her. “It’s a recurring theme in my life,” she said. “Meeting with nives and her seeing something in me that I wasn’t seeing in myself was important.” 

Straley’s mother, husband, younger brother and the Piedmont Middle School school nurse (representing the staff) were at commencement. She said: “I feel like the commencement speech is an opportunity to share what I feel are the most important things I have learned and to give that back.”