Antwan Adams clearly remembers the moment he began to realize that he could change the world: In elementary school, he was stunned to witness the inauguration of Barack Obama, the first African American president of the United States.
“I never expected to see somebody who looked like me in that sort of position,” said Adams, who will graduate this week with a double major in political science and communication. “That was when I first started to understand that I could make a difference and be a part of something larger than myself.”
Raised in the Bay Area in a family devoted to education and community engagement, Adams committed early on to public service. While still in high school, he volunteered at philanthropic organizations and shelters for the unhoused, and he secured internships with local elected officials. At the same time, he found himself magnetically drawn to the world of broadcast journalism — he calls Anderson Cooper one of his idols — and started to hone his strengths as a communicator and storyteller.
At UCLA, Adams has put all of his skills to work as chair of internal affairs in the office of the president of the Undergraduate Students Association Council, sharing students’ perspectives with campus leadership. The role gave him the chance to help advance a wide range of initiatives, including those related to environmental sustainability — one area of particular importance to him.
“It’s rewarding to be working toward the goals that I and many of my student government associates have in place for all Bruins, especially for students of color, women, disabled persons and LGBTQ+-identifying people,” he said. “Being in an executive position where I can advocate for my peers, enact transformative, long-lasting change and make an impact is all that I could ever hope to do with my time here at UCLA.”
Adams’ interest in building community was also integral to his role as director of online marketing and sponsorships for the student-run Campus Events Commission, which brings a variety of performers, screenings and speakers to UCLA. Among the group’s recent events were a panel discussion with the rapper G Herbo, which focused on mental health in the Black community, and another panel, co-presented by the Iranian American Women Foundation, addressing the ongoing struggle for women’s rights and human rights in Iran.
“When we can bring people like that to campus and publicize it, it lets people know that UCLA is a secure and progressive place that is more than OK with talking about and addressing big issues that ultimately shape our daily lives,” Adams said. “I’m passionate about shining a light on matters that deserve public attention and working toward making my community, wherever that is, as positive and progressive as possible so that everyone feels safe and empowered to enact change.”
Adams has drawn on his own experience to help Bruins in meaningful ways. As a UCLA Travel Study program ambassador who studied in Paris his junior year, he has shared insights with students who might otherwise be reluctant to study abroad because of their background or identity.
“I recently spoke with some students about how I felt about potentially being labeled as ‘different’ based on how I looked and talked whilst traveling in Europe,” he said. “I was able to speak about my direct experiences and encourage other people to take the leap and go abroad, because despite the anxiety, I had an incredibly life-changing time.”
During his undergraduate career, Adams has also been actively involved in campus life and extracurriculars, serving in diverse roles from college influencer for Levi Strauss & Co. and media chair for the Theta Chi fraternity to social media director for UCLA’s French club and legal assistant at UCLA School of Law — all of which he fondly refers to as “a mangled mess of pure bliss.” But his favorite memory recalls a remarkably serene moment on campus.
“My freshman year was cut short due to COVID, and my sophomore year was entirely online,” he said. “So when I came back junior year, I took a long walk around campus by myself. It took a couple of hours after going into random buildings, taking it all back in and fully realizing, ‘I go to UCLA.’ It felt like a homecoming — like I’d been accepted all over again.”
After graduation, Adams will spend the remainder of the year traveling, seeing family and working, ideally at a nonprofit, before preparing for the transition to law school. For now, he’s enjoying every last moment of senior year and the satisfaction that comes with having served as advocate and ally in the Bruin community — often with very tangible results.
“A first-year student recently asked me to write a letter of recommendation so that she could apply for a scholarship,” he said. “And she got the scholarship! I’m just so happy to now be the person that I’ve always wanted for myself, for others. And I wouldn’t have been able to do it without UCLA.”