A tale of two Berkeleys


This column has to be prefaced with a small disclosure. I know the byline up there says that my name is Sakura Cannestra, but Sakura is my middle name, not my first name. My first and legal name is Berkeley, Berkeley Sakura Cannestra.

When people are asking why I was named Berkeley — which is a valid question, considering it’s not a name you’ll see on the top 100 baby names list of 1998 — the easiest response was that my father is an alumnus. That, however, is an extremely watered down version of the story behind my name. My father did graduate from UC Berkeley, both for his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. But, the city of Berkeley was the first place that my parents lived together. They lived in an apartment, closer to the Berkeley Bowl, and were poor enough to count slices of bread, according to my mother. Along with that, the old English definition of “Berkeley,” as a name, is birch meadow, as in a meadow full of birch trees. My mother’s mother grew up in a birch meadow area, so she thought that that meaning was fitting. Coupled with my middle name, Sakura, and I had a nature thing going. But the first thing that everyone connects my name to is that one of my parents had to have been an alumnus, and I can understand that.

I still have a Cal Athletics T-shirt from 2008, when my family drove up from our home in San Jose to watch the Big Game. Cal lost, yes, but I remember screaming “Roll on you, bears” at the top of my lungs, my squeaky voice nearly cracking. I remember going to Blondies after the game, my father’s favorite pizza place, and grabbing pizza with the family. We rode to the top of the Campanile, too, at some point during the day, and I remember looking out at the view of the Bay and, more importantly, of Berkeley. I remember slipping a piece of paper that I had scrawled “See you soon” onto between the stone windowsill and the flat bottom of the metal safety bars. Was UC Berkeley my top school? Yes. I could not imagine myself attending any other college.

The reality of the situation in my final two years of high school was terrifying. I was average. I was at the very bottom of the average statistical UC Berkeley admittance GPA, my SAT scores were just below average, and the only thing that stood out was my ACT score. If grades and standardized tests were all that mattered, there was no way I was going to get into UC Berkeley, and therefore it is great that grades and tests are not all that matter. I worked harder on my UC application essays than any other essay before. I had done extensive extracurriculars, had won a few awards for athletics. But, still, UC Berkeley was a far reach, and I was terrified that I had not done enough. 

I remember being petrified the day that UC Berkeley acceptances were releases. I turned off my email notifications, I pointedly avoided all conversations about who got in. People used to ask me (they still do ask me, but not as often) what my plan was if I was not accepted into UC Berkeley. I would try to brush the question off with jokes. I would change my name. I would attend UC Davis and live up to the rejection stereotype. I would have to go out of state — no one knows what a Berkeley is in, say, New York. They believed my quips to be statements of ease, that I did not particularly care if I got into UC Berkeley or not. They would be wrong. I had no plan B, I had nothing I wanted to do if I did not get into UC Berkeley. Of course, I entertained the thought, because UC Berkeley is a hard school to be accepted into, and I did apply for multiple schools. I just could not see myself attending them. The top choice and the only choice in my mind had always been UC Berkeley.

The notification email was ambiguous. I followed the link to my application portal and jumped at the sight of confetti falling on my screen. I only read the word “Congratulations.” I cried for three hours, proud. I did it. 

When I moved into the residence halls, both of my parents gave me cards, telling me about how proud they were of how I had grown, how excited they were for me. I remember reading the card from my father for the first time and crying. There were multiple reasons, as I said earlier, for me being named Berkeley, but the main go-to reason was because he was an alumnus, and the school meant something to him. It meant integrity, wit and passion — ideals that he valued, wanted to instill upon me and hoped that the word “Berkeley” would mean for me, too. But I do not think that he understood quite what the word Berkeley has always meant to me. I am passionate. I am witty. I have the integrity to pursue my dreams. I am Berkeley — Berkeley is me.