Living a big life

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When I think back to the moment when I was accepted into UC Berkeley, I remember feeling a mixture of apathy, wonder and complacency. I had taken an anthropology course here the summer before my senior year of high school, so I was already familiar with the campus and the surrounding city. My world history teacher, a proud UC Berkeley graduate, loved the school. You could see it in the way he dressed, talked and even ate UC Berkeley-themed birthday cakes were not uncommon sights to behold whenever I would babysit at his house.

But even though I had grown up used to seeing UC Berkeley memorabilia tacked onto the walls of my middle and high school classrooms, and the very city of Berkeley existed a mere 20 minutes away from my home, the idea of attending school here still occupied such a distant space in my mind. It was not the idea of attending college “too close to home” that dissuaded me. It was a school which incited my fears, even as it embodied my goals, and I looked to the less intimidating UC Davis as salvation from these fears.

I tried to quell this anxiety by consulting my friends, my tarot cards, my father’s meditation guide and about half the teachers in my high school’s English department. When my English teacher told me to choose the school which would help me “live a big life,” I relegated the advice to the back of my head. March trickled into April, and soon enough, Cal Day snuck up on me.

It was a year ago when my dad and I drove out to Berkeley on a Saturday. We walked around the campus for about an hour, and shortly thereafter began to make the trek up Bancroft Way to Memorial Stadium to hear Chancellor Nicholas Dirks’ admissions speech. Everything was so vast the buildings, the crowds and of course, the legacy attached to the school itself. I returned home unsatisfied and still feeling lost.

The weekend afterward, I toured UC Davis. The relaxing, sun-drenched campus with its fragrant flowers was alluring enough to entrance me into the thought of attending school there, and I began to see it as my home for the next four years.

My high school friend Sean had been experiencing the same predicament. Our prolonging of this choice soon garnered us a reputation in our high school’s English department, likening us to Hamlet, Shakespeare’s infamously indecisive hero. We both procrastinated until the night before both of our SIRs were due, when we decided to drive to Berkeley to see if this visit could help us sort out our emotions.

After walking through the campus for an hour, we lay down on the lawn below the Campanile, resting on the dew-laden grass. At this hour, the tower had an etherial glow, casting a halo against the dark periphery of the night’s shadows. As we talked about each of our separate futures, we came to the agreement that it was a fear of anonymity that hindered our ability to “see ourselves here.” At a school of thousands of students and professors who have accomplished so much, trying to measure up would be a daunting task.

On the drive back home, Sean asked me if I had made my decision yet. I nodded, thinking that it only made sense that he should choose UC Berkeley and I, UC Davis. In that moment, I could only see UC Berkeley as a dark matrix that would suck me into its depths, chew me up and then mercilessly spit me back out.

But I soon entered into a series of epiphanies. I understood that I was reluctant to come to UC Berkeley because I was still not ready to undertake the unfamiliar.

That spring, my parents’ sudden divorce invoked a sense of urgency and chaos in my home life. But I found liberation in knowing that such an abrupt fissure demanded a reversal of everything that had already fallen into place, and I realized that I could reverse my own decision in the same unpredictable manner. In addition, remaining close to home has allowed me to help my siblings transition through the change.

One year later, I walk through Sproul Plaza on any given day, privy to the hum of voices that flood the school, travelling over Strawberry Creek into some unknown possibility of the future, meeting with the dreams and of all those who have been infected with the common spirit which impels so many of us to play a role on this campus. I see Sean, and we stop to chat for a few minutes, then carry on in our separate ways.

Like my own high school self, UC Berkeley is often unpredictable. But do not let your uncertainties about this school translate into fears. There is a hidden magic to our campus which makes itself known when you least expect it.

Contact Cassy Vogel at [email protected]