When we were bears at Berkeley

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I had great plans for this column. I planned to call it “The After (College) Life,” quite cleverly riffing on the idea of future and, well, death. But the more I tried to contemplate my future, to look ahead and see myself employed and owning a television (with cable), the more I found myself glancing back over my shoulder to try to catch a glimpse of the bleak exterior of Evans Hall and the tall, wonderfully phallic Campanile.

As much as I wanted to write about the beautiful, expansive unknown that we will all be forced to face in a week, I find myself drawn more to the memories, the moments that have defined my time here. Namely, the utter confusion I’ve felt in trying to understand words such as “ontological.” The classes in which my beliefs about the world were tested. The frustration I felt with my roommates over their refusal to understand the glory of Minute Rice and their inability to reach the ceiling to change a lightbulb. The night we sat at the picnic tables in the Asian Ghetto and a drunk guy came and ate one of our donuts. The blanket fort that lasted for all of one dead week. The tent we tried to erect with only half of the poles.

That one time during my second year when my roommate and I decided to climb up to the Big C at 1 a.m. to watch the meteor shower. We never made it as far as the Big C. Our cellphones died on the way up the hill, and we ended up on the road to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory instead, while accidentally passing a couple making out on the side of the road. Eventually, we gave up trying to make it to the all the way to the top and instead spread blankets over the weeds next to a trail leading to Somewhere. We ate lukewarm ramen and alternated between staring at the inky blackness above us and the flickering lights of the city in front of us. For every meteor we saw slice briefly through the darkness, we closed our eyes and wished — for our futures and our loves and the grades we wanted to get on midterms.

From our vantage point — tucked away, behind a curtain of knee-deep grass and a trash can of rattling beer bottles — the world seemed big, yes, but the impact of its enormity was lessened by the Campanile, Barrows Hall and Wheeler Hall limiting our line of sight and letting us, for a little while at least, imagine that the world stretched only as far as Bancroft Way and Hearst Avenue.

And that is the beauty of college — or, at least, that’s what I thought made college so special. It carves out a tiny piece of the universe and, in it, teaches you to think, make mistakes and build a career. Once you’ve gained that wisdom — the ability to not just pass through the motions of life but to engage with them on some higher level — college kicks you back outside the protective walls of buildings. You are supposed to stop speculating about that bigger world in five to seven double-spaced papers and to actually live in it — a terrifying thought.

But the reason I can’t help but glance backward is not because I’m afraid I’ll lose sight of the campus or because I’m afraid of being someone other than a student, but because I’m scared I’ll lose sight of all the memories and moments and people who brought me to this point. In all of my planning, speculating, learning and wishing about the future, until now I failed to see that each moment of the past handful of years taught me less about how to prepare for “the rest of your life” than it taught me to value each moment as it is and let it become a part of me.

As UC Berkeley students, we are temporary. We come, we learn, we leave. But as Bears, we are something a little more like forever. Because in all the moments we have shared together — in all the classes we’ve attended, Big Games we’ve lost and times we’ve protested UC logos that strongly resemble a toilet bowl — we have, together, remade ourselves, adding to our identities through the lives we’ve lived separately and as members of the class of 2015.

Now that we are forced to face our future, we do so knowing that we will leave this part of ourselves behind. Our years at college will be printed, filed and stored in a dusty cabinet in the back of our minds and in the archives of the campus’s records office. But as we live, moment by moment, choice by choice and burrito by burrito, we will always remember the time when we learned and lived and stayed up until 4 a.m. discussing federally funded child care instead of working on that group project. The time when we were Bears.

Anne Ferguson is the summer 2015 opinion editor and was the spring 2015 assistant opinion editor. She is graduating with bachelor’s degrees in English and anthropology.

Contact Anne Ferguson at [email protected]