Editor’s note: A parent’s perspective on Cal Student Orientation.
I still remember Michelle’s first steps — tentative and a little shaky at first, as she looked constantly to make sure my steady hand was within arm’s reach. Gradually the steps became more confident and she began to wander a little farther, still checking frequently to be sure my helping hand was close enough if needed. Her confidence and distance grew more and more over time. Now, when she looks back, I read two messages: I am confident that I will walk steadily toward my goal, but I am relieved to know that your help is still in sight. The looks back became less frequent over time, but the messages were always the same.
One day, the walk was a little less hurried, the looks back a little more frequent. Though her strength and confidence were still apparent, the rest of the message was somehow different. She walked on, and just before she left my sight, she turned and I saw our secret word in her eyes. Then she rounded a corner and was gone, on a plane bound for far-off California and her orientation at the University of Berkeley.
The thing is, I actually thought that was the name of the school. I knew about Cal, the University of California. I had seen their football team play. I just never realized that Cal and that famously liberal bastion of wack job hippie protests were, in fact, one and the same, until my daughter enrolled there.
When she was making her choice, she knew that my sentimental (and more practical) preference was the University of Texas. She shared little, if any, of my Texas pride. She was put off by the brash persona of the stereotypical Texan. It was not until she immersed herself in the culture of the opposite extreme that she became the staunchest Texas defender since William Barrett Travis (Google him, hipsters). In the end, it proved a serendipitous selection for the daughter of a proud Texan. Who knows what four years of cartoonish braggadocio at the most Texan of all institutions would have done to her Texas pride?
I was very happy with her choice of Cal, because it was proof that she honored my wish that she choose a school for her own reasons and hers alone.
Those in the know consider Cal to be among the top few of the finest academic institutions in the land. I have spent time in the Bay Area myself, and I am more than satisfied with her school selection.
At this point, the reader may ponder, given my acceptance of and satisfaction with her choice, how it came to be that I, the proud father, was not off to share the orientation experience with her. In fact, the original plan had been for me to accompany her, but the doctor’s note in my pocket said my medical condition would not allow me on the plane. Her mother stepped in to experience the wonder and excitement of orientation in my place. My own orientation memory is every step Michelle took, from the first baby step until she disappeared around that corner. And a few days of bachelor living while Mom did all the work. So, yeah, basically a win-win.
I missed the big send off, the years slipped by, and to this day, I have yet to visit the University of California, Berkeley campus. I have had the pleasure of seeing it through her eyes, and I like what I see. I have never known a place that I have not visited to hold such a special place in my heart. And I expect to make a Sproul stroll of my own in the near future.
About all I remember from those days is having steak and beer in my underwear. That doesn’t sound right. I meant, like, sitting around in my underwear because I was alone at home, eating steak and drinking beer. I probably did some other stuff. Oh, yes, now I remember: I was thinking about Michelle the whole time and wondering how orientation was going. Because, you know, smart girl, but can’t pick up a telephone.
Matt Pitcher is a UC Berkeley parent.