From Channing Way

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South Berkeley is fascinating at night.

Asphalt streets roar. The Dressed-Up emerge and fill the gaps between houses, marching to the nearest crowd — some function. A mass of youthful students often appears, choosing and deciding which path to follow, head often bent, considering which slew of texts to send.

It’s the zeal of impassioned weekenders. College is being celebrated.

A dozen street signs are tattooed and stained with eroded stickers, graffitied like the ground, shining and fading in mere seconds at the sight of each passing headlight. Several colored sedans, a luggage-filled hatchback, a car with chains and a screaming firetruck swindle in the streets: honking, swerving, spanning miles down Channing Way.

But the street has always looked the same, a recycled stage for performers from dusk to dawn.

I’m there, too, just in bed.

And from the third floor, where I lie, the periodic staccato of drunkenness seems surprisingly familiar. During the evening, chants and melodies, some more strident than others, ignite such trivial memory, that trite excitement and unhurried rush of freshmen year.

I first came to this road in August, three years ago. Buckled sidewalks in artifact condition were trampled under the sun. Trash was seemingly commonplace.

This road — it’s gray, and the oil stains, patterned yellow and tire marks — is unaware of anyone’s particular presence.

Friendly faces were met and firm handshakes were made at the neighboring residences on Channing Way, after class or during the weekend. Cigarette smoke blended with barbecues, the new fragrance.

At 18, most of my first-year classmates were old enough for cigarettes, something I had never really wanted to try. But a freshman, hardly homesick, rather excited by campus’s new strangeness, would try anything once — not just cigarettes.

The 49B became the medium for conversations as it looped around Channing Circle to campus. Onboard, weekend excursions, res hall antics and academic difficulty were spoken of. Some fatigue was present, but words were confidently exclaimed and exchanged under pairs of doe eyes.

Channing became a fixed denominator, something so unforgivably familiar.

Though as days aged, sunsets were watched and mornings missed, the semesters soon finished, and our personalities shifted and shuffled.  

A second year, then a third year comes and goes. Arriving only to leave, with the same destination: an uncertain graduation.  

What had happened? Little facets were noticed from times before, some more permanent and others ephemeral.

Studying’s importance exponentially grew. We learned to cook. Money was wasted, concerts were attended, drugs … bought. Protests observed — and participated in. Classmates embraced, and others left school.

Our parents grew older. Politics remained ubiquitous. Alcohol temporarily lost its appeal. An internship was offered.

Mental health changed. Nights together became nights alone. Emotions agreed to supersede academics, and our general happiness shifted.  

There are undoubtedly periods of silence. Moments of unknown, where the fog swallows the hill eastward. Days where there is nothing, a mere accumulation of moments spent doing remedial tasks: shopping, cleaning, sleeping. The window looking out to Channing Way is stained, then cleaned. Music is still played outside in this quiet.

In moments soon forgotten, semesters stood as forlorn fixtures of our time at UC Berkeley. Even frustration turned to lamenting, then to exhilaration and joy.

Res hall living was audacious enough. Our introduction during the now-extinct CalSO was only so reminiscent of what we briefly explored during freshman year. And then we moved on to bigger and better things. Internships, employment, new relationships? Possibly.

But freshman year doesn’t determine the subsequent years. The excitement never hushes, and more opportunities emerge.

I stood to understand that my experience would change based on my varying commitment, to clubs, sports, friends and my family — by the way, call your mom. To myself, and to others, I was becoming more engaged.

So, can you contribute to the community?

Yes, though some never do. Yet, there are undoubtedly benefits for involvement here and there on campus.

Positivity is important, somewhere between optimism and realism, which often shapes and forges the attitudes towards our school. Mutual care between classmates and friends is highly encouraged.

Campus resources are to be taken advantage of — academia, personal life, community development and mental health.

It is true, classes never cease to impress, especially to you and your mind, in how you can study or do the lack thereof. Failures become accepted.

The new years brought new people, many rotating out of college to a more independent, successful life. But new faces appear with the same struggles only so familiar to any university student.

To those strangers you meet on and off the street, some who become friends, and then a part of your life, the future is unbound by your determinations.

I haven’t forgotten the long trek back to Clark Kerr, my route home three years ago. But along Channing Way, I adopted new ideas over several semesters. I nurtured social bonds, practiced self-compassion and learned to grow with my classmates and friends.

And in the end, you can continue to forge ahead on the same path. But never worry to seek out other routes and destinations.

Contact Robert Tooke at [email protected].

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