My grandmother Ethel Mary Schwartz wrote an article about what her time in college meant to her, and I feel that after four years, I finally understand. This is my Berkeley riff on her original piece.
Spring filled the air. The very ground gave forth the tangy flavor of the newborn season. It was the kind of a day that seems too perfect to be earthy — even the squirrels and pamphlet-pushers paused in the awe of the surroundings.
The awesome rumble of the campus was joined now and then by a young woman, who whistled a gay little tune as she walked under Sather Gate, her worn boots kicking a stone in front of her. One glance at her face would tell you that she was under the spell of her surroundings — her eyes sparkled and her half-parted lips curved into a smile. The people she watched seemed so radiant that, at times, they threatened to overshadow the May sunlight itself.
The woman’s thoughts were tumbling over one another in their hurry to be expressed. Such days as this always led her to think deeply of so many things — important things, like love and home, blue gum eucalyptus, hot marbled lattes, little stubby-legged dogs, stout-hearted comrades.
Camaraderie — her mind stopped for a moment to ponder the word. Such a warm-sounding word it was. Everything solid and comforting in life came to mind at the mere mention of the word. The woman went on in her thoughts to another word, which was to her synonymous with camaraderie — Berkeley. She was glad for a moment that she was alone, for it would have been impossible for her to express these thoughts to another person. Her feelings for Berkeley and the friendships that it meant were so deeply entrenched in her heart that it was enough to hold them closely to herself. The things dearest to one are usually inexpressible, even if they hinge on old Berkeley communist roots.
She thought of the class she had just left, the usual ridiculous faces smiling from across the lecture hall, the sharing of pens, the sharing of giggles from a professor’s accidental innuendo. Not just a class, she thought, but a home of great intellect and friendship, brimful of the questions and solidarity that only overworked pseudo-academics can bring. And what a home it was. More than 35,000 students in classes, all so different in thought, yet so alike when it came to the frenzied whir of their minds.
Above all, there existed among them a bond of sympathy so real and genuine that no trouble was borne alone. It wasn’t only the big things but also the small disappointments — setting the bottom of the curve, not getting a text back from that boy, the weekly Sunday morning aches. Yes, dozens of times it was a smile or a “hello!” that had changed a dark blue day into the warmest, cheeriest moments of all. It was the thought that someone cared and was standing by to offer comfort, whether that person was a housemate or the shy, rather awkward person next to you in class.
She remembered one time when someone had asked her what Berkeley meant to her. Her mind grasped all sorts of high-sounding names — scholastic ability, honor, loyalty — all of these were Berkeley, but there was there was one more above the others: friendship. It was a down-to-earth sort of word, but it conjured up the entire picture of her Berkeley life.
The woman turned and began walking home, her back to the descending sun. A small boy was running through campus as his father chased after, and her eyes followed the script on the boy’s shirt. Against a background of blue floated the familiar yellow — the symbol of camaraderie, the yellow “fiat lux” that never went down with the sun.
Brenna Fallon served as president of the Berkeley Student Cooperative during the 2012-13 academic year.