I remember it as if it was only yesterday, as the rainfall that only moments prior had engulfed the Greek Theatre had all but evaporated, when the Big Game bonfire was lit Nov. 20, 2009. It was the first Big Game Bonfire Rally I attended — at that time a junior in high school — and it certainly was not to be my last. While I had had earlier opportunities to see the campus and its many characters in the surrounding town before then (such as going to football games next to the tree-sitters), I hadn’t witnessed the one attribute of the campus I would truly find a passion for — student energy.
The energy of UC Berkeley is palpable beginning day one of a student’s first day of class, and sometimes even earlier, such as with CalSO, Cal Day or a campus tour. Being involved in the UC Rally Committee and also as a campus ambassador, I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to both introduce new and prospective students to the energy of the campus while also continuing to foster the energy with rallies and sporting events. But what exactly defines this energy? Is it simply the energy of a large campus? Or perhaps the energy of a top-ranked institution?
I will admit it has taken me years to find an answer to the mystery. And by no means do I intend to describe my answer as the answer but rather simply my opinion, which has taken four years — especially my senior year — to form. The energy of the campus that I witnessed in the Greek Theatre years ago and that continues to inspire me along with countless others here today, I think, is the energy of the student body. This student energy defined as the energy and vision to engage, to envision, to question the status quo, to celebrate the campus, and to perpetuate the campus’s greatness (however one defines it) for future generations.
Student energy and independence is, in my opinion, the most defining aspect of UC Berkeley, both throughout its history and today. In the campus’s earliest days, students founded the California Alumni Association, the ASUC, The Daily Californian, the Blue and Gold Yearbook and the Big C Society, to name just a few — not only long-standing organizations that have highly influenced the trajectory of student life here, but treasured symbols and traditions. Our colors, blue and gold; the Golden Bear itself on the 1895 Cal track team’s banners; and Oski himself — all initiated by student interest and energy.
And in the more modern era, student energy defines the campus even more. The culture of student-led and -initiated activism first witnessed in the free speech protests of the 1930s and in the more famous Free Speech Movement of 1964 has been seen continuing and developing over the decades through People’s Park, the Third-World Liberation Front and the student movement advocating divestment from the apartheid regime in South Africa. While merely a few examples of the countless that can be named, they serve in highlighting the historical and significant impact that student independence and determination has had on this campus and on the world.
In looking back at my past four years, I see a campus that has constantly grown and evolved in a large part through student vision and energy. I look now to future years and to future students, and I hope that they will realize the energy of this place is due to those students who came before so that they continue to carry the torch and perpetuate the energy for those who follow.
Derek Schatz is chairman of the UC Rally Committee. He will be graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.