I am graduating with nothing before me.
I should be overtly anxious and scrambling, fumbling for a semblance of stability in the postgrad world, but instead I feel calm. Deep down inside, I have a gut feeling that everything will work out fine.
Here’s why: I am about to graduate from UC Berkeley, and there’s no institution that could have prepared me better for dealing with the yawning abyss I’m about to fall into.
Public universities are derided for their overwhelming class sizes and inefficient bureaucracies. Critics imply that we lose something from an impersonal education, that our experiences will be detrimentally impacted by four years of large lectures and administrative negligence. I couldn’t disagree more.
The point of youth culture has always been to lose yourself in a crowd. We wouldn’t put up with the sweat and crush of raves and music festivals or the unbearable heat of football games if we didn’t find something immeasurably empowering in the knowledge that there is a stronghold of people around us pouring their souls out for the exact same purpose.
UC Berkeley can hurt. We’ve all suffered through the same academic rigor, all experienced the same feelings of inadequacy, all compared ourselves to those around us and questioned our reasons for existence. And through it all, we’ve been sustained with the understanding that we’re not alone in this struggle.
Perhaps the biggest skill we gain from being a part of the public university nebula is the tenacity to fight. This isn’t an easy country — the United States will chew you up and spit you back out, just to do it again. We had UC Berkeley do that to us first, force us to battle for everything we wanted. From the beginning, there was never any hand-holding.
Want to get into a capped class or major? Want financial aid? Want funding for your student group? We said “yes, please,” and UC Berkeley said “work, bitch.” It’s not a perfect system. It never will be. There will always be sexual assault policies to be improved, mental health services to be provided and campus climate to be cultivated more inclusively. That doesn’t make it okay, but it does leave it up to us to make it better.
Four years later, we leave here ready to go out swinging. If we go down, we don’t go down quietly. And if we do get beat, as we have so many times before, we know how to gripe about it with our friends and Facebook feeds, and then stand back up again. More than any critical-thinking capabilities or theoretical insights I’ve picked up during my tenure here, what I’ll take away most from UC Berkeley is the spirit of, “When you’re knocked down, roll on, you goddamn Bears.”
Enough with the school, though. Let’s talk about us.
We’re a weird bunch, aren’t we? We get more heated about Israeli-Palestinian politics than Congress. We care deeply about the editorial independence of a student-run daily newspaper. Hell, we couldn’t even go a 4-20 without a protest.
My “Berkeley moment” didn’t take place at the base of the Campanile or on the steps of Sproul or overlooking a view of the bay. It took place beating an empty water jug in the middle of Channing Way’s traffic circle, snapping my fingers off in 2 a.m. ASUC hearings and watching Beyonce’s visual album in the squalor of a college house.
It took place saying “screw you” to the system and sneaking into a $100 show at the Oracle Arena. It took place eating a meal with a friend in comfortable silence.
The essence of UC Berkeley resides in the quirky, the underside, the collective.
We are white, black, Latino, Asian, mixed. We are male, female, transgender, genderless. We are accomplished. Yes, each and every one of us is accomplished, and we have yet to even commence.
The other day at 5 a.m. after I had just finished my thesis, my roommate and I drove out to Doe Library and sat off the ledge eating a bag of cookies. Memorial Glade lay before us, dark, empty, glistening. In the distance, a garbage truck trundled down the hill toward Stanley Hall. “That’s a huge,” said my roommate sleepily. It wasn’t a particularly hilarious slip of the tongue, but it cracked us up for the next minute. This is what I’ll miss. Being able to drive out to campus at 5 a.m. and laugh at the stupidest things. But who says that all ends here?
We go big, we go Bears, and we always go one more round.
Congratulations, class of 2014, you beautiful, insatiable, ambitious beast. I am graduating with nothing before me, and because of you, it couldn’t be more perfect.