Finding Berkeley anew

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Anthony Bongco/File

“Move out of the way!” my friend shouted at me as he backed out of the driveway of the co-op the Sunday before the fall semester began. His truck was packed with bikes, food and tents. My recently graduated friends were leaving for Burning Man as I stood on the gravel driveway waving goodbye.

The feeling of being left in the dust is common for me as a “super senior” — an undergraduate staying for nine semesters instead of eight. My friends who graduated last spring are no longer in town. My girlfriend moved back to Los Angeles last week. In October, my twin brother will be flying to London for an internship. In these brief moments of saying goodbye, I always feel lonely — and knowing that I’ll be in school for another year only adds to that feeling of being left behind.

Despite the pressure to graduate on time, I decided to take a ninth semester because I wanted to take classes in varied disciplines. I ended up majoring in English literature and urban studies. By now, I have had a lot more time to figure out what to do after college, and this semester, I’ll be applying to grad school.

It’s not easy keeping up with college life, even after four years of attending Berkeley. So much changes semester after semester that, each fall, I feel like I am in a new place. For instance, Campbell Hall is closed for reconstruction. Eshlemen Hall has been demolished. A year ago, Memorial Stadium was reopened after extensive renovation. Even our chancellor, with his hip hairstyle, is new. So when the new waves of freshmen move in, I feel like the school is telling me to move on.

As a super senior, I have one foot in college life and one foot in the afterlife (post-graduation). It’s not a bad place to be, because most of my friends are working full-time jobs and not loving them. Sure, they make a lot of money, but they say that it’s hard to relate to the older co-workers surrounding them. They go to work and do the same thing every day while I get to write papers on French films and talk about Foucault. Being a super senior, in some ways, is awesome.

Being one of the oldest has its advantages.

For myself, I have a four-year supply of knowledge to draw upon when facing challenges. I’m more comfortable talking to professors in order to make a big class feel small, despite budget cuts and increasing class sizes. When low on cash, I know where to get banh mi sandwiches for $2.75 and where to find awesome free seats at the Hearst Greek Theatre. When circulating rumors contradict each other on issues like inequality in America or revolutionary politics in the Middle East, I know which sources to use to draw a more sound conclusion. I know of a few retreats off the Berkeley Fire Trails or by the marina when I want to get away from school for a little while.

Not surprisingly, I feel better equipped to deal with challenges when they arise after four years of study at this university.

That feeling carries over, especially when it comes to friends. When my friends are visiting from out of town, I know of the perfect place to go. When fellow co-opers are planning a party, I can offer well-seasoned insight on what themes, events and music people really go for. When friends come to me heartbroken or stressed out, I can offer meaningful advice to help them through it, because I’ve encountered similar situations over the past four years.

The longer I’m at Berkeley, the more I find there is no way of knowing what’s going to happen next. Within these four years, I’ve seen administrators come and go, social movements such as anti-Proposition 8 and Occupy Berkeley recede and return. I’ve learned that change usually doesn’t happen overnight. Not all new guards will live up to their promise, but don’t let that be discouraging. We, as students, get to decide which movements are worth pursuing and which are worth avoiding.

Graduation is just months away. After four competitive years, it’s nice being a big fish in a small pond, especially because I have to apply to graduate schools. A ninth semester is my chance to make sure I have everything in order before I leave Berkeley to study elsewhere.

After my friends drove off, I meandered back into my co-op as students I didn’t recognize moved in. I lingered at the bottom of the narrow stairway while they hauled their stuff up to my old friends’ vacant rooms. Despite feeling empty after saying goodbye, I realized that at this moment, I was experiencing the start of something new.