It is easy to be overwhelmed by the grandeur that surrounds you on the Berkeley campus. Regal buildings plant themselves alongside groves of ancient eucalyptus trees, Strawberry Creek flows along banks and under bridges, and above all of this the Campanile rises, proud and tall, marking the hour as they pass. The students scurrying past you are undoubtedly some of the brightest minds of their generation and these minds are at work in the impressive halls and behind their age-smoothed wooden doors discoveries are being made that may one day change the world.
I look at these things sometimes and I panic, thinking I may never be able to live up to those who came before and who walk with me now. I can barely handle doing my laundry on a regular basis — it takes until I have literally no socks left before I begin thinking about it, and even then I used to use my free trial of Amazon Prime to order new socks within a day. I feel as though I am swept up by the tide of ambitious minds and, because I am not strong enough to fight the indefatigable force of their movement, I let it roll over me in waves while I clamber for a breath, a small break in the beating.
But I am able to tread water sometimes. My mind is able to find peace in the way genius can be human. The same person who may one day rewrite the entire Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is also the person who willingly sacrificed her injured foot for the sake of stylish boots. Perhaps the smartest people I have ever met are also the ones who will not let a joke, especially a pun, ever die. Berkeley is the place where a physicist and an engineer can team up to siphon spilled vodka off a freezer floor back into the bottle using a straw. The same campus that hosts Nobel prize winners, former presidents and global change-makers also sent out an emergency email to the entire student population that just said “mmmmmmm.”
My inadequacy comes in ebbs and flows; I find that when I am still, everyone around me is quick to surpass. On the rare days when I have my life together I stand on equal footing with my peers and feel as though I belong among them. It is a struggle for me to keep standing, and I often wonder if everyone else is fighting as hard as I am. I think they are, because I often commiserate with them about how we have three essays due tomorrow and meetings until 10 pm tonight. We all joke about how the fuel powering our bodies is mostly caffeine and that sleep is a foreign concept to us.
I feel a deep-seated need within myself to be extraordinary, a pressure against my ribcage drives me to live up to the expectations I created for myself when I came here where extraordinary is ordinary.
The legacy that Berkeley carries with it, one that I placed on my shoulders when I joined the ranks of bright-eyed and eager students, is a heavy one. It consists of high expectations and proud parents, challenging courses and demanding commitments. The legacy of Berkeley is a wide path that each us, trampling our miniscule footprints onto its surface, strive to make an impact on. We feel as though we owe it to our school to be something, anything, in the world after we graduate into the global citizens our school has made us.
But that is not to say our school doesn’t owe us anything. No, it needs to live up to its legacy as well. Its legacy of free speech, inclusion, inspiring teachers and an impassioned cultural mission to spread the values of a public education. Its legacy of being “a haven for communist sympathizers, protestors and sex deviants,” according to Ronald Reagan — which I myself would live up to except the Daily Californian doesn’t let its writers protest. And there are parts of its history we hope it leaves in the past — like its history of protecting tenured professors for more than the purpose of “academic freedom.”
I never understood blind loyalty. I will not pledge allegiance to anything that doesn’t support me in return. I expect my university to rise to the expectations and needs of its students, to uphold its legacy. I plan to hold the University of California, Berkeley to the promise it made when it first became great it owes us to continue its legacy, and only then can we carry it out into the world, spreading the shining beacon of light Berkeley was meant to be.
Contact Anderson Lanham at [email protected].