When I first stepped on campus, it was Cal Day 2013. I walked up the sloped marble steps of Sproul Hall and plopped down. But I didn’t sit facing the rows of tables and milling students — I twisted at the hip and turned my whole body so that I faced Sproul Hall in all its glory. I was overcome with a flood of emotion as I thought about all of the thousands of butts that had sat on these steps before mine. The building reminded me of an academic White House. Sproul Hall was regal, capped with a red tile roof and accentuated by strategic windows. To me, Sproul Hall was a gem. It was the guardian building that stood watch over a plaza of students, milling about.
As I wandered through campus, I was struck by the majesty of it all. Wheeler Hall was all white marble, held up by proud columns. Wheeler’s wood doors were framed by elegant arches. The dark wooden doors were worn smooth by the generations of hands that had pressed against them. Doe Library was impressive because of its largeness and decapitated head of Athena.
Then, I saw Evans Hall. Evans is 13 floors of eyesore: gray concrete, sterile and mean-looking. It doesn’t look like the home of a world-renowned mathematics department. Instead, Evans Hall looks like the world’s ugliest office building. I remember feeling confused — wasn’t a college campus supposed to feel grand? Wasn’t the campus supposed to make you feel special?
I’ve now realized that UC Berkeley is more than bricks, mortar, empty classrooms and labs that never sleep. It is not the buildings themselves that are enchanting. We are made up of something greater: the spirit of California. Thousands of students once roamed the halls we now occupy. The architecture is nothing more than a protective shell for teeming intellect. Though Sproul, Wheeler and Doe are architecturally stunning, brilliance is more than skin-deep.
UC Berkeley is truly colorful, dynamic and stunning because of our student body. This campus is vibrant, weird and righteously indignant.
The discovery and the accolades of the Golden Bears who came before you made this campus what it is. The prestige and pedigree of this school influenced your decision to come here. And UC Berkeley has a long history of student involvement that dates back to the 20th century.
One of the most deeply rooted traces of student involvement dates back to a fateful baseball game that took place April 15, 1899. This year, way back when, Stanford was having a good baseball season. Despite its success in baseball, its other principal sports teams — track and football — were performing very poorly. Because of the recent athletic pitfalls, the Stanford cheering squad felt the need to rally up the crowd. So, classy and true to form, the Stanfordites chopped up a straw man dressed in blue and gold ribbons. Enraged, UC Berkeley students snatched the axe used. They were chased through San Francisco and eventually into Berkeley. Ever since, the Axe has been a point of pride. Now, this trophy is awarded to the victor of the annual football game between UC Berkeley vs. Stanford — colloquially known as the Big Game.
Our California pride extended into the social sphere early on. The young and spry Earl Warren graduated from UC Berkeley in 1912. The ambitious Warren had an interest in law, and he eventually made his way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Elder Bear Earl presided over the Supreme Court as chief justice from 1953-1969. The chief justice is best remembered for slashing school segregation in the Brown v. Board of Education verdict.
But the spirit of California embodies much more than just pride in our athletic traditions. Ever heard of Irving Morrow? Well, he graduated from UC Berkeley’s architecture program in 1906. Then, he casually designed the Golden Gate Bridge. This innovative, internationally recognized symbol of San Francisco was one of the first bridges of its kind.
UC Berkeley-bred innovation continued when Golden Bear Douglas Engelbart invented the computer mouse and Tom Anderson, who graduated in 1996, founded Myspace.
With more than 458,000 living alumni worldwide, the UC Berkeley community is widespread to say the least. We’re well rounded — last year, the student body dedicated 290,000 collective hours of public service. And we’re employable — Teach for America hires more recruits from UC Berkeley than from any other university.
In short, here at UC Berkeley, the opportunities are endless. Our student body is diverse and interested in real-world issues. But the real question is, “At a campus so historically renowned as Berkeley, how do you distinguish your own voice?”
Find your niche, try something new, and push your comfort zones. And as you sit on the steps of buildings where so many others have sat, know that you are brilliant. You are part of a community that pushes to leave the world a little better than when it was found. Let our rich history support you and your individual narrative. Stand on the accomplishments of our elder Bears and then reach a little higher.
In college, you have a unique opportunity to reinvent yourself. Now is the time to break out of your high school identity. So hang up the letterman jacket and shun the memories of bad yearbook photos — you are whomever you want to be. This campus is a cornucopia of possibilities. That being said, the choices can feel overwhelming.
Think about your passions. What did you enjoy doing as a child? What did you enjoy doing as an angsty teen? Odds are, you will probably enjoy doing a that similar activity in college.
Be unapologetically yourself. It is difficult when you meet three new people every hour. But eventually, you will find the friends that stick. When forming these friendships, be as much of yourself as you possibly can. Share your interests, talk about your adventures, and be open to making new ones. Every part of you is accepted here — at this campus, we welcome your bizarre habits. The traits you thought were too eccentric for high school? Your strange affinity for sea turtles and zest for musical theater? Those traits are our favorites. Because in college and at UC Berkeley, you get to be your whole self. And when you are, I promise that there will be a community of folks to accept and appreciate all of you.
When you walk onto this campus, be brave, because you deserve to be here and belong at UC Berkeley. Don’t let anyone ever tell you differently.
Happy Cal Day 2015, and go Bears.