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This is freedom

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APRIL 20, 2015

I call my dad way too much.

I call him to gush over how much I love my classes, to tell him that today we somehow ended up talking about the universal beauty of Beyonce, Michael Jordan and sunsets in my ancient political theory class, to inform him that yogurt is actually originally a Turkish word, to keep him up to date with my journalistic ventures in my Intro to Narrative class — and oh, by the way, did he know I’m going to go broke because I’m going into journalism? Also, in Robert Reich’s class, he just taught us that in the state of Texas, only working adults who make up to 26 percent of the poverty line get Medicaid.

I call him when I have a long break between classes, and I call him when I have five minutes to sprint from Barrows to North Gate halls. I call him when I’m soaking up some Vitamin D on Memorial Glade and when I’m desperately searching for a seat in Cafe Milano to escape the “pouring” rain outside. I call him with boring news — “I want to heat up my food, but the microwave in the Golden Bear Cafe is too far right now” — and with exciting news — “I got a B on that midterm that I swore and swore to you through my tears that I would fail.”

I call my dad way, way too much. Sometimes he answers the phone with, “This is your seventh call today, so you only get 90 seconds. Go.”

This is in huge part because my dad is one of my best friends. His contact info reads “My Comrade In Misery And Partner In Crime” — he’s the first person I call when I’m happy and the only person I call when I’m down. For every adventure I plan, I envision him by my side. Every trip I take, I find myself missing him only because I know how happy he’d be watching the sun slowly rise on the Caribbean, breathing in the beauty of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, walking through the whirlwinds of orange leaves in Portland. So I call him frequently to share what’s going on in my life: the delighting and the depressing, the mundane and the monumental.

But I especially call him to talk about my classes because I know how much he’d love to be here. I often find myself sitting on the large, white steps outside Doe Library while he sits in his office in his hospital’s emergency room in Texas, both of us engrossed in a discussion on Hobbes’ state of nature (my area of expertise) or the anatomical divisions of the nervous system (his area of expertise).

One day, after a particularly enjoyable ancient political theory class, I called my dad to update him about Socrates’ antics. I was leaning on the concrete wall surrounding the terrace of the Free Speech Movement Cafe and looking around UC Berkeley’s green campus. A breeze was gently shaking the tree in front of me, and the sound of someone’s faraway laughter drifted over as a guy whizzed down by the Valley Life Sciences Building on his bike. I smiled, my heart growing with that familiar “Damn I love Berkeley” feeling.

I was suddenly hit with a feeling of immense gratitude for where I was.

I cut my Socrates story short and told my dad thanks — for not just helping me get through college but for believing in me and encouraging me and filling me with hopes and dreams and goals, for never listening to anyone who said it wasn’t worth sending a girl to the States and for never, ever putting me down.

“Of course, habibti,” he said. “I want you to do something you enjoy doing, that you’re proud of, something that makes a difference. We should only go to schools that give us thrills in education. I don’t want you to get a degree, but an education.”

Today, I’m (finally) buying my cap and gown and, tomorrow, my graduation tickets. Next week will comprise my last days in a classroom; two weeks later, I will be at the Greek Theatre, holding onto my diploma, flipping over the tassel, grinning through family photos. Two days after that, I’ll be on a plane to Rome, brimming with plans of traipsing around Europe with my sister, while the proof of my UC Berkeley degree will sit at the bottom of my dad’s unpacked suitcase in Austin, Texas, after which it will be put away with my 400 books and the few items of clothes with which I couldn’t bear to part.

But everything I learned at UC Berkeley will be with me. It will stay with me on my trip around Europe and when I move to Turkey. It will stay with me when I come back to the States for graduate school and will continue on after I get my first “real” job.

Because yes, we get a world-class education here, but I didn’t just learn calculus II and international relations. UC Berkeley showed me the true meaning of freedom, something usually taken for granted by those who have it but something that those who had been deprived of it see in every minute detail at Berkeley. We have a newspaper on campus that became independent to fight university censorship. We have people openly expressing ideas and thoughts in classes. We have rallies and protests and marches every other week. This, to me, is amazing. And it was a huge part of my education experience here.

Freedom is an immensely powerful thing: The Syrian Revolution was sparked by 15 children, who painted anti-government graffiti on the walls of their school. Just the idea of freedom can bring down an empire and can change millions of lives.

So here’s to UC Berkeley, whose education system showed me what it’s like to have free discourse in classrooms while my friends back home were beaten up for expressing their political dissent. Here’s to The Daily Californian, for providing me with proof that newspapers are not always cluttered with government propaganda.

And here’s to my father, who made all this happen.

Sarah Dadouch writes the biweekly Monday column on lessons gleaned from her father. You can contact her at [email protected].

APRIL 20, 2015