This past month, I found myself returning to the Big C day after day. It’s a nice place, in a very meta way, to get away. There’s nature and the Bay spread out before you, but there’s also the dirty remnants of a couple of six-packs people hauled up there at some point. Even as you stare out at the ocean, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is behind you — a building that is both a pinnacle of Berkeley’s top-tier status and also named for the guy who helped contribute to the atomic bomb.
Multitudes. What I’m trying to say is UC Berkeley contains multitudes.
Walt Whitman once wrote, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” Toward the end of our high school career, this became a shorthand among my closest friends and me.
“I contain multitudes” was easier, quicker, than acknowledging all the parts of ourselves we were discovering, all the parts we could feel changing and, most terrifying, the parts of ourselves we realized may not survive into the next stage of our lives.
It’s been four years, and I still can’t find a better way to explain how I’m feeling. I contain multitudes.
In the beginning, for me, Berkeley wasn’t a destination so much as an escape. As a freshman, moving across the country, I was still thinking in terms of what I was coming from. Fleeing might be a more accurate verb, maybe even running — but I’d rather romanticize history a little bit.
I had absolutely no idea what career I wanted to pursue. I was in the closet. I was trying to figure out if there was still a place for me in Christianity. Even harder, I was trying to figure out if my life had any place for Christianity.
See, for most of my time at UC Berkeley, there were very few constants. I was ever changing what I wanted to do at the same time that my own understanding of my identity was constantly swinging back and forth. I was cutting off ties with people at the same time that I was trying not to lose others. But the one thing that remained constant was how much I loved words. I permanently tattooed them on my body or temporarily inked them onto my ankle, my wrist, my stomach. I whispered them to myself in the predawn parking lot of a high school 2,000 miles and four years from where I whisper them to myself now.
So I suppose it’s inevitable that when I started writing for The Daily Californian, it felt so right and became so grounding — even though I spent only one year out of four in its office.
As much as I love this paper and wish I’d had more time here, I’ve started to think maybe I walked in those doors at the exact moment that I was able to write what I’ve spent my whole life trying to say — when I finally knew who I was and, more importantly, was starting to become OK with it.
It was in the arts and opinion cubicle that I started to feel like I had reached somewhere. That I began to believe that maybe I had been running to something after all and that, even more impossibly, I had found it.
And listen, I know this sounds saccharinely clichéd. Yes, of course, I had other self-revelatory moments before coming to the paper. But the Daily Cal was such a cohesion of all the disjointed bits of my college career that it felt practically fateful.
Berkeley started out as a place I came to because I was running away from something. I don’t feel that way anymore — not even because I think I necessarily successfully got away from it, but because somewhere along the way, I realized the most important thing wasn’t getting away.
It’s not that the past has no power over me anymore, but I am no longer just the past — month, semester, year or decade. I was never just my past. There are pieces of me that are entirely new, that never existed before I stepped foot on campus.
In a conversation with one of my friends, she said something that felt particularly relevant: “We become mosaics of the people that change us.”
It was in writing for this paper that I looked up and realized that the mosaic I am today would be alien to the me of the past. And so, of course, there will inevitably come a day when my mosaic will be completely unrecognizable to my present-day self — and that is terrifying and calming in equal measure. But always, always, there will be pieces that remain through each iteration.
Fear and hope, fear and hope. God, I guess inhabiting that contradiction is what it means to be alive.
Danielle Hilborn joined The Daily Californian in summer 2017 as a columnist before becoming an arts reporter in fall 2017 and the queer media beat reporter in spring 2018. She is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English.