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Forced to forge a new path

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MAY 08, 2014

Most people don’t know that when I arrived at UC Berkeley, frizzy-haired and bright-eyed, I wanted to be a sports broadcaster. I didn’t want to be the first female president, an organizer, an advocate, a political news junkie or an actress — I wanted to be a sports broadcaster. I love baseball, and to me, UC Berkeley was a stepping stone to being the next Erin Andrews. Within the first couple weeks of school, I auditioned to be a part of CalTV, and they very politely said “no thanks.” I was heartbroken, because I was 100 percent sure my dreams and passions had been crushed.

I could not have been more wrong. Being rejected and told I was just not right for the career of my dreams was absolutely the best thing that happened to me. I joined the ASUC, I ran for senate, worked as the deputy of the ASUC Vote Coalition and finally ran for external affairs vice president. Since then, I’ve fallen in love with the idea that the student voice is a force of nature, and together, we can create change. Don’t get me wrong: I still think I would have made a pretty great baseball announcer. But UC Berkeley has a funny way of changing your major, your personality, your passions and your dreams and showing you that maybe this new you is who you were meant to be all along.

UC Berkeley has changed in the last four years, too. As a freshman, UC Berkeley seemed a place of unlimited spirit, opportunity and excitement. Sophomore year, my year on the ASUC Senate, was filled with challenges, changing not only my major but also my ideas on discourse and diversity with the “Increase Diversity Bake Sale,” Occupy Cal, the V.O.I.C.E. Initiative and the future of print media all on the senate agenda. My junior year was all adrenaline: It was 2012, and I spent more hours on Sproul Plaza harassing people to register to vote than I did in bed dreaming about not having to spend anymore time on Sproul harassing people. Then, we passed Proposition 30, we watched the election on Sproul — someone brought fireworks! — and I was reminded about how much of a community we can create through our passions. Finally, senior year.

My year as external affairs vice president has been a roller coaster. My hair is significantly grayer than it was four years ago, my coffee addiction is at an unhealthy peak and I spend more time on Gmail than I do on Facebook. That said, this has absolutely been the best year of my life. Our office worked to implement a student written law to create a student district in the city of Berkeley. We brought more than 200 students to various organizing conferences across the country. We lobbied in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., and fought for an oil severance tax that finally passed out of the state Senate Education Committee. We created an anthology to share the story of international students on campus. We even created a Congressional caucus for the UC system.

On a personal level, I’ve grown more than I thought I was capable. I’ve been in conversations in which students have screamed at me, I was in a meeting with Janet Napolitano in which most students walked out of the room and a few of us were left to discuss the future of the UC for half an hour. An op-ed was written about me called “Correcting Mecklai’s misleading claims,” which is not an ideal way to see your name in a news headline. I’ve seen posters printed with my picture, name and cell phone number on them, asking students to call me and tell me to change my opinion on an issue they disagree with. I’ve had to fight, hold my head up high and prove that my voice was worth listening to. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

The other day, I was being interviewed for an article in the alumni magazine, and the reporter asked, “Did all of this drama turn you off politics? Are you done?” I laughed into my phone and realized that no, this year has done the opposite. This year has shown me how thick my skin can be, how powerful dreams are and how strong we can be in the face of challenges. While I assured the reporter I was certainly not running for mayor of Berkeley anytime soon, I also told him that this process and the last four years have done more to excite my love of political engagement, community organizing and fighting for what is right than I thought possible. My hair is still frizzy, my eyes are still bright, and every day I look around in awe of what the people around me have and will accomplish with their passions leading the way.

That feeling of joy at knowing I walk every day along side the next group of people who will change the world is the same feeling I get as I stand in the bleachers of a baseball game — the bright lights shining on the diamond, the pitcher ready to go and aflutter in my heart. The last four years have shown me there are more home runs outside of a baseball field than on one.

UC Berkeley will change you. It wants to change you for the better. You just have to let it do that.

Safeena Mecklai is the 2013-14 ASUC external affairs vice president. She is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in media studies and a minor in public policy.

MAY 08, 2014