In the spring of sophomore year, I failed one of the first engineering classes I ever took and came close to not passing a few others. I began to doubt that I was cut out for the academic rigor of this university.
I remember telling my roommate at the time that people could be successful without a college degree, so I didn’t necessarily need one either. I listed off the names of the only two people I knew who had achieved grand levels of success without such a credential: Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.
My roommate looked up at me from her computer, unconvinced by my argument, and said flatly, “But, Amruta, you’re not them.”
When I first came to Berkeley, I felt invincible, convinced that because I had worked so hard to get in here, I would inevitably work as hard and do as well in college. On my first day of college in late August 2010, the possibilities in front of me were limitless, and my energy to do everything and meet everyone was boundless. Yet, sometime in the middle of sophomore year, I felt I had let all those possibilities slip away, and I grew weary.
I was fearful of the very likely possibility that I would fail more classes and even more fearful that this was an indication that I would never accomplish the things I wanted to later in life.
Thinking about graduating in a week Saturday has made me feel that way again. There’s something about things ending that forces you to reckon with all that you’ve done and wonder if it’s enough.
I only have a little more than one week before graduation, which leaves hardly enough time to do all the “should haves” and “would haves” and “could haves” that I find myself thinking about. So yes, for that reason — for peace-of-mind — I want to say that all I’ve done is enough. But I don’t like that reason.
To some extent, those deep feelings of inadequacy are unavoidable, but I want to believe that as we leave Berkeley, there are more reasons to be hopeful for those feelings than to feel insecure about them.
In a place like Berkeley, it’s often easier to learn about one another’s achievements than the rejections, failures and unrecognized effort that come before. I know that many of you have jobs lined up, internships soon beginning, graduate school to look forward to. And I’m happy for you, and proud, and a little bit envious, too.
But there are many of us who don’t have any specific plans, other than probably moving back home and trying to find something to do, somewhere. I’m one of you. And that’s okay.
It’s okay because we’re graduating. We’re just beginning. And that’s one reason to be hopeful.
In our time here, we’ve seen and been the students beaten by police during the Occupy Cal movement, students who forced change upon the university’s sexual violence reporting policies and those who got that research scholarship, finished that thesis or found that story worth writing about. We’ve learned to believe in our big dreams. That’s another reason to be hopeful.
We say that we want to change the world — make it better. And we recognize that we can’t do it alone. We’ve learned that our individual work must build on the work of others and that we can’t want to make the world better only for the credit that comes with knowing that it would be worse if it weren’t for us. Knowing that we can think beyond ourselves makes me hopeful, too.
Sure, in the past four years, I’ve failed classes, lost friendships, unsuccessfully applied for jobs and internships, hobbled around the hills of Berkeley on crutches, been depressed and switched majors three times. Yes, there are papers I wished I had started earlier and worked on harder; nights I wish I had slept instead of gone out; people I wish I had gotten to know better instead of kept silent toward.
But, in the past four years, I’ve also made new friends who have become like family; found that I like to write words, not code; taken classes in which I’ve done well enough to feel proud of myself for; and learned that old roads long-ago paved to our common goals aren’t necessarily the roads that will lead me there.
I’m writing this because I used to think that I was alone in feeling overwhelmed, inadequate and insecure over thoughts that started with “if only” and “what if.” Sometime since sophomore year, I’ve learned that I wasn’t the only one who felt these deep pangs of regret. And if you have ever felt the way I did, I want you to know that, too.
As graduation approaches, I want us to remember that this is not the end. We may still ask if what we did these past four years is enough, and I still hope the answer is yes.
I hope it’s yes because we’re proud that we’ve made it this far. We’ve made it, at least in part, because what we failed at and what we underaccomplished has taught us so much about how we want to succeed. And that’s definitely reason enough to believe that we can still accomplish anything.
My fellow grads, we have so many reasons to be hopeful.