Unlocking the future at graduation

I have this thing about keys.

When I was a kid, we were forever getting locked out of our house. I didn’t understand what it meant then; I thought we just needed the right keys. When I grew up, I knew better. I knew what an eviction was, what “foreclosure” and “repossession” meant. I knew what the sound of the sheriff knocking on the door meant and that it was best just to hand over the keys.

My mom never went to college, but she wouldn’t allow me to mope around locked doors, either. “If you’re gonna talk about it, be about it,” she would say. She dismissed all unworthy endeavors, and she pointed out when I stayed beneath myself, afraid to grow beyond my old lives. Many of my keys were cut from hers, and one always opens the door when I go home.

When I went back to school, I was offered membership in Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year colleges. I joined and received as its token a tiny golden, key-shaped pin. I was living in someone’s garage and riding the bus, but the symbol of the key was almost better than the real thing. I knew that a key is the thing that opens doors.

Community college handed me my first set of keys, and the doors of the world swung wide. Keys to research and scholarship came from Christina Yamanaka and Erik Ozolins, showing me how to put raw talent to rigorous use. Keys to writing and critical reading came slowly, grudgingly, from Larry Barkley, and he never slipped it off his ring until I had really earned it. Keys to confidence and faith in pure academia slipped into my hand with a wink from Mike Fleming and Leslie Greer. It is because of time I spent at Mt. San Jacinto College that I was prepared for anything at Berkeley, and they’re the reason I was accepted. They’re the reason the incredible professors here at Cal saw anything good in me.

Berkeley is a big place, and it’s easy to slip through without being noticed or making a mark. Working at The Daily Californian has put too many keys on my ring to mention. I’ve been privileged to work with great editors such as Anjuli Sastry, Grace Lovio, Meadhbh McGrath, Sarah Dadouch and Noah Kulwin, who not only gave me their own keys but taught me to pick locks. My friends here have made me into a better writer, and the tricks I’ve picked up here have made me a faster and cleaner writer than I ever was before. I’ve been doubly privileged to follow leaders like Sarah Burns and J.D. Morris, who showed me how to land the internship I’ve had all this last semester.

Interning at the San Francisco Chronicle has been like a set of unmarked skeleton keys. The paper is venerable and respected, and getting the lock to turn the first few times wasn’t easy. The work I did there was hard and glorious, but it was difficult at first to see the real value of it. The truth is, working an unpaid internship ended up landing me my first real full-time job out of college.

I wouldn’t have been able to take the internship on if it weren’t for the unflagging financial and personal support of my husband, John Elison, UC Riverside class of 2012, summa cum laude. We made a promise to each other, to tag-team this thing and work while the other finished school. Here we are, love. We made it. And doors just keep opening up.

One of the secrets about success is that the more keys you have, the more keys people will give you. They take a look at that impressive ring of many keys you’re holding and think you look responsible and can probably handle a few more. My last semester at Cal has finally put me in the position of turning opportunities down, just because I already have so much. I hope those keys I turned away end up on the rings of people who need them more.

If you look closely at my picture that appears beside my columns, you’ll see I’m wearing an old black iron key around my neck. This is one of my talismans; it’s a key of work and sacrifice and plain honest metal. If you see me at graduation, you’ll notice that I replaced that one with a golden key necklace. I think that’s the most eloquent image I can provide for what I have accomplished here; from a black iron key to a golden key, and nothing but open doors ahead.

Thank you so much for these two years. Thank you for reading and for going through this with me. I’m off to open doors I never dreamed existed.

Meg Elison is the summer 2014 opinion page editor. She joined the Daily Cal in summer 2013 as an opinion columnist before becoming an arts writer. She is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in english.