Charles Man Fong Tung was nervous and tired last December when he walked into the Graduate Degrees Office on the third floor of Sproul Hall to – at long last – file his dissertation.
He had made the required two copies, printed in the required font size on the specified archival paper, but was it perfect? What if it wasn’t? Would his years of labor be frustrated?
His worries were not uncommon among degree candidates submitting the fruits of their intellectual labor. But, like most, he did it right (even a few days before the deadline), and he could relax.
At this point, a small ritual collided with a tall Canadian newcomer, and a bit of serendipity occurred. Midway through a get-acquainted tour of the Graduate Division, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, Berkeley’s new chief executive, was visiting the Degrees Office just as Tung was handing over his doctoral tome.
Both were informed of the longstanding Graduate Division tradition of rewarding each successful filer with a tasty lollipop. Drawing on his deep experience in conferring honors, the chancellor instinctively took up the sacred sucker (labelled “PhinisheD”) and with informal majesty transferred it to the hand of the surprised and relieved Charles Tung.
After congratulating Tung, Birgeneau proceeded down the hall to other Graduate Division offices to meet more people, shake more hands, and absorb yet more information about Berkeley.
Tung, whose degrees are in English, pronounced the encounter “fortuitous” and said, “This is the best administrative day I’ve ever had.” Originally from Phoenix, Arizona, Tung did his undergraduate work at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and earned a master’s degree at Oxford University before coming to Berkeley, which he chose because “it had the No. 1 graduate program in literature.”
His dissertation, entitled “Modernist Temporalities,” is a study of early 20th century British and American writers and their philosophies of time. His dream “has always been to be a professor,” and he is living it, currently as a tenure-track assistant professor at Seattle University, where he lives with his wife, Long-Chau. The two met at Georgetown.
At Berkeley, in addition to his research, Tung honed his teaching skills as a graduate student instructor for seven semesters.
— Dick Cortén
(Originally published in The Graduate magazine, Fall 2005)