A retrospective love letter to Cal Day 2017

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It’s the summer of 2015, and I’m 16. The best word to describe my younger self? Ambitious. Obsessive is a top contender as well. I’m young and annoyingly immature, and I step onto this campus for the first time.

A love affair for the ages is born.

Like many UC Berkeley students, I was a massive nerd in high school. As a freshman, my goal was to get into a big name school.

That changed when my dad and I, along with my sister, snuck into Wheeler Hall. It was a summertime ghost town, and we wandered into the 150 auditorium. My dad (the gracious benefactor of that trip) turned to me and said, “Alex, I can see you taking a class in this building.”

Maybe those words spoke my current reality into existence — that, or the fixation on UC Berkeley I developed afterwards. Nothing else mattered; I just had to get in.

On Feb. 10, 2017, my acceptance letter arrived. A month later, another letter arrived: I had been selected as an incoming Regents’ and Chancellor’s Scholar.

Happy doesn’t begin to cover it.

Excuse the tired build-up. We’ll fast forward to Cal Day now: I’m with my mom, sister and best friend. It’s my second time visiting the school of my dreams, and I’ve never had such an intense feeling of belonging.

I don’t have an agenda. Somehow the universe simply aligns, and I see Dwinelle Hall for the first time, which is where I now live as a comparative literature major. It’s nothing to write home about, really, but the abundant presence of the humanities is inspiring.

I later meet Tony Soyka, the comparative literature adviser, and we discuss my literary interests. He tells me exactly what I have to do if I want to make this my major. A rough sketch of a four-year plan starts forming in my mind.

Then I pick up The Daily Californian, deciding immediately that I want to apply after reading incoming Executive News Editor Sakura Cannestra’s Cal Day 2017 column.

Everything feels right, and everyone is so welcoming.

Before Cal Day, UC Berkeley was just an idealization in my head. Despite my prior visit, it remained a daydream that I liked to turn to when I was on the brink of a nervous breakdown from excessive studying.

I barely recognize the person I was when I arrived for Cal Day. She looked like me (blonde dye instead of red, with uglier glasses, but similar enough) — but she isn’t me. The experience marked a major shift in my perspective. Something in me had healed by the time I got into the car at the end of the day and drove back home to San Bernardino in southern California.

I learned that this is a city with so much culture to offer. I realized how much of a tragedy it would be to waste that. Did I want to be in my dorm studying all the time, or did I want to be basking in the poetry of this city?

It’s no secret that students at this school share a collective sadness. A glance at our meme page will tell you that, and I’m not completely free from this shared mentality that has arisen from the extremely competitive culture on this campus.  

All the same, my focus has shifted for the better. As for other writers before me, Berkeley has been my muse. High school me would be shocked that I make room for non-academic related things, and that’s fine. She’s the reason I’m here, but she wasn’t that much fun.

Cal Day made this school real for me. It made me realize the gravity of being a UC Berkeley student. Stay humble, incoming Golden Bears, but also remember that it is actually a big deal that you’re here. When the workload is too much and you’re stressing over the high-stakes environment, remembering that is important.

Who do I thank for my new zest? There’s my dad, the reason I visited back in the day. I can thank Tony, because our conversation that day solidified my then uncertain desire to study comparative literature, and I can’t imagine where I’d be without my major. I can also thank my mom for missing work (and letting me skip school) to drive me to Berkeley. Sakura is to thank as well, because The Daily Californian brought my writer dreams to life.

Without Cal Day, I’d have no one to thank. So thank you, Cal Day. You’re a little cheesy and a bit overbearing, but you made me feel welcome.

My first year of college is ending. Throughout it, I learned more about myself than I did in the 18 that came before it.

Contact Alex Jiménez at [email protected].