For the first time in my life, I don’t know what is coming next. When I first got to UC Berkeley, I felt lost and alone; on the brink of graduation, I feel the same way. But this time, it’s not scary.
In high school, I was involved in a variety of clubs, and my grades were not superb; I wanted to change that in college. That sentiment lasted barely a semester, as any of my professors or GSIs could tell you — but I really do believe that I have learned more from my fellow students and members of Bay Area communities than I did in the classroom, and I will forever be grateful for that. If you stick to only your comfort zone, I can promise you that you will not make the most of your two, three, four, five or more years here at UC Berkeley. It is too easy to fall through the cracks here — to feel unsupported, unappreciated and devalued by both the institution and your peers.
My first semester at UC Berkeley, everything intimidated me. After class, I would often go back to my triple room in Foothill and watch Netflix instead of meeting new people, exploring Berkeley or getting involved. I could have easily kept that pattern up for four years, but I would have been miserable. In September 2011, I thought that even interning with the ASUC was out of my reach, and the memory of sitting in a club meeting in Dwinelle when I first heard about the opportunity, not feeling qualified enough to even apply, is still one of my most vivid memories of UC Berkeley. It took pushes — more like shoves than gentle nudges — from my mentors to pursue leadership positions. So I just want to put this out there: If there is an opportunity out there in which you are even remotely interested, go for it. Even if you’re not the right fit, people will remember you when a better opportunity comes along, and you’ll definitely learn something from the experience.
As a first-year, I could never have imagined myself as the external affairs vice president, much less a “controversial” figure. Honestly, hearing the rumors that are circulating about me have hurt me and made me so anxious that some days, I can’t leave my bed. In the same vein, as a freshman, I could never have imagined all the world-changing people I would meet on and off this campus because of my ASUC work. I wish I could name them all in this piece, but 850 words is not even enough for all of their first names.
My eight semesters and two summers here changed me. I’ve been surrounded by people who have challenged me, called me out and made me cry more times than I’d like to admit. My anxiety and mental health have rapidly deteriorated since the beginning of my sophomore year, but I have been able to stay afloat because of the amazing communities within this institution. The amount of love people can give and the sheer faith people can have regularly leave me speechless. Every time I see my old campaign fliers, I get chills from remembering how many folks genuinely supported me: how people sacrificed sleep, test grades, relationships and so much more because they shared my visions for how to make UC Berkeley, the UC system and the rest of the world just a little bit better.
I am proud of the work I have done in my three and a half years in the ASUC. While I am not going to make a laundry list of accomplishments, I know I can graduate knowing that I put my heart and soul into it, even though I made mistakes and learned a lot of hard lessons. As I started my term as external affairs vice president last May, I was scared that I was going to leave my communities worse off than I found them. But this year has shown me that Cal students, local community members, and students across the world are still fighting, still being critical, and still showing love, compassion and hope.
To me, it seems like the world is falling apart around us; and most of the time I’m terrified, bitter, or jaded. But I am repeatedly and continuously reminded by my fellow students, whether they are continuing students, graduating seniors, or alumni, that there is no reason to lose hope. We are some of the brightest, sincerest and most passionate people there are, and my only regret from my time at UC Berkeley is that I did not meet and learn from more of my fellow students. So to my fellow students, whether you are graduating or not: I am inspired by you and humbled by you.
No matter how much or little time you have spent as a student at UC Berkeley, I hope we can all agree that we have made our way in an institution that does not coddle us one bit. If we can do that, we can do anything.
Caitlin Quinn was the 2014-2015 ASUC external affairs vice president. She is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in political science.