I’m sitting in Wheeler Hall for my introductory astronomy class, and Alex Filippenko is giving a lecture on the solar system.
When he gets to Saturn, he steps away from the podium and starts to tell a story. One night, as a kid, he pointed his new telescope to the sky and, after a few tries, found the glowing bulb of Saturn. It didn’t matter that thousands of people had seen it before him. That night, he discovered Saturn.
He lingers on a photo, pointing to Saturn’s rings.
“I’m sorry, but you got to be crazy to not find that beautiful,” he says.
But I’m not looking at Saturn. I’m too focused on Filippenko — that look of wonder on his face — and I’m speechless, staring down a passion like that.
That was two years ago, and I’ve been obsessed with the night sky ever since. I finished Astro C10 so spellbound that, come fall, I would drop all of my English and media studies prerequisites and enroll in Math 1A and Physics 7A.
I went to the first physics lecture. I drew some graphs. Then, I dropped my pencil and ran back to the humanities, begging for forgiveness.
I have this problem a lot, this dangerous overreaction to passion. When I listen to an English professor read from a favorite book, I swear, for a moment, I believe those words are fucking magic.
You could say I lack a dose of healthy skepticism. That I fall too easily — for classes, for boys, for anything, really. But I think it’s okay to let yourself be swept away by a feeling. I think it’s okay to be reckless enough to think that feeling is love.
Because maybe all that means is you want to feel yourself moved.
For four years, my heart has been a helium balloon and Berkeley a storm of 1,000 winds. Now, with graduation two seconds away, I can’t help but wonder where it’s traveled to.
When I look at graduation, though, I don’t think of myself now versus me then. I just see memories — moments of love and surprise and bewilderment. I see my Shakespeare professor tearing up in lecture over Cleopatra’s suicide. I think of the night my roommate called me crying, as if I could make heartbreak feel any better.
And I realize this: If college helped me find myself, it’s because the people I’ve met here have such forceful hearts and minds that I can see myself silhouetted more clearly in the light of our differences. If Berkeley has changed my life, it’s because it pulled me to a cluster of stars whose gravity turned the planet upside down. If Berkeley ever took my breath away, it’s because I was racing alongside you.
With all of that at stake, graduation can feel like a big, ugly, black hole. I’m not sure when I’ll see my friends again. I’m not sure who will become a stranger, and it’s enough to bring me to tears.
The thing is, though, I think none of this really goes away. I think my friends are not just stars but supernova explosions of which I am the remnants. I’ll always have the colors you showed me. And I’ll search the world over for the elements you blasted into existence.
But for now, while I have you, I want to say just a few things.
To The Daily Californian people: Thank you for helping me create the first thing I’ve ever really been proud of. Sara, you were my standard. Thank you for showing me what a story can do. Alison, Sarah, I’d have gone insane if I didn’t have you. Sophie, you will always be my heart. I’ll listen for yours all the way from D.C.
To my floormates from Clark Kerr: The fact that we’ve stayed close has meant the world to me. When I close my eyes, I see Christmas lights glistening at Jack London Square. I see San Francisco sparkling from Treasure Island. I see porch lights flickering as we skinny-dipped in Lake Tahoe, screaming to the heavens. Leanne, our relationship is precious to me. If I “grew” at Berkeley, it was in the process of resenting, knowing, admiring you.
Celina, to think of you is to burst out laughing for no reason at all. I hope you know you feel like family.
Shan, Stu and Jan: You are my home. You can’t know how good it feels to have you there, to divide life’s shit into four easier parts. I love you and want only to know you’re happy as the years go by.
To the boys of Berkeley: If we ever went on a date and you made me laugh, know that for at least one night, Berkeley was New York City and you were a blinking sign on Broadway.
To the one I love now: You don’t make Berkeley feel like New York City but like the entire world at once.
To my fellow graduates: It’s been an honor to share this sky with you. Fiat Lux.
And to you, Berkeley: There are days when the view from the Campanile and the beats of Sproul Plaza sound like the promise that everything is possible — as if space is expanding just for our dreams. Thank you for that. You’re the most beautiful galaxy in the whole damn universe.
Virgie Hoban joined The Daily Californian in fall 2012 as a news reporter before becoming a news editor in spring 2014 and assistant opinion editor in fall 2014. She is graduating with bachelor’s degrees in English and media studies.