Congratulations on making it through another semester at UC Berkeley. While reflecting upon my past five semesters at this great school, I noticed three things:
Firstly, I am stuck in a perpetual cycle of high personal expectations at the beginning of a semester followed by disappointment and self-degradation at the end of it.
Secondly, a majority of students go through similar experiences.
And thirdly, the struggles and failures that bring about that low self-esteem are the most important part of my college education. So let’s take a trip down memory lane to get a better picture of what I am talking about.
Backtrack a few months to our first semester when we are overly ambitious. We choose more units and difficult courses than we can possibly manage. (But no worries — we invest in a schedule planner.) That and our steely resolve to be on top of things means we are bound to ace all our courses. Classes start and we march on to the first few lectures with our chins up, chests out and minds well rested. Our bags are perfectly organized with a labelled notebook for each class with a side note that says: “Return to this address if found.” There is no stopping us now. This is our time to shine.
Fast-forward two weeks and we are done with our first few assignments. Just a couple of bad scores but nothing that can possibly damage our ambitions. Things are still looking good.
One and a half months into the semester and the first wave of panic sets in.
The first round of midterms does not go according to plan. That one class in which the midterm counts for a good share of the final grade gives us a good hard blow to our self-esteem. Sleep deprivation begins to set in and caffeine starts to take over our lives. Assignments are building up and our hopes are starting to shatter. We are gradually acknowledging that we might have stretched ourselves too thin. More time is spent staring at memes about people complaining that the semester is destroying them.
But wait. Maybe all of this is just a reality check. Obviously we do everything in our power to succeed, but maybe we need to remap our paths. The bad scores will be accounted for and we will get close to perfect scores in the next exams to attain our planned grades. We will manage our time more effectively. And this thought reminds us of the schedule planner we bought at the beginning of the semester. Where is it anyway? Oh, it’s under the bed. Now all we need are a few tweaks and there, all sorted out. Things are not looking that bright at the moment, but all’s well that ends well, right?
A week before the finals and what can we say other than: ABORT, ABORT, ABORT!
No planned mission has ever panned out as horribly as this one. What a total trainwreck. Life has never felt so miserable.
We are walking around campus like zombies. Notebooks that were meticulously sorted and catalogued at the beginning of the semester are either lost or serve as rough papers for our assignments. All the notes we didn’t take, the office hours we didn’t attend and assignments we left until the last minute fill us with shame and guilt.
What were we thinking when we signed up for all these classes? Also, why are these classes so freaking hard?
The beautiful structures we built around ourselves at the start are now tumbling down in flames. Now all we can do is drag ourselves out of the fire and make sure we make it through finals without another calamity. Resolution for next semester: BE REALISTIC!
Skip ahead to next semester and here we are at the beginning of a fresh term. Heads held high, ambitions overflowing and life is looking bright and good…
Noticing a pattern? This is the story of an average UC Berkeley student. And if you are one of the small number of people who actually manage to breeze through their semesters without any breakdowns, I tip my hat to you, but your experiences are not reflective of most of us.
The reality is that all of us at UC Berkeley are part of an amazing, ambitious and talented group of people. These qualities spark competition, which might leave some of us in stressful situations. But that is exactly what gives UC Berkeley its special flavor. Our ability to persevere despite being constantly knocked down is powerful and goes a long way into shaping our characters constructively.
J.K. Rowling talks about the power of imagination and failure — the power to think big while at the same time being steadfast in the face of disappointments. When we look back at our time at UC Berkeley, it will be the struggles — more than the achievements — that will remind us that it was all worth it. That no matter how good or bad or ugly times were, the collective experience was golden.