My two years here have felt so devastatingly brief that in my silliest moments, I’ve considered sabotaging my own academic future just to prolong my time (I might end up accidentally doing that anyway).
I realize somewhat that this is an exercise in melodrama and that I will most likely be a student again, but I can’t deny Berkeley’s impact on me. Especially when I compare my first day of class with my last.
On my first day, I got up two hours early and double-checked my class list. I only had one class: film theory discussion. Whatever that means. As a transfer student from community college, I was entirely thrilled by the concept. We certainly didn’t have any classes on theory at my old school. My previous experiences with film classes had been limited to large lecture halls where we watched movies like “Good Will Hunting” en masse. After the film ended, the students would filter out, and we would mechanically move on to the next chapter.
It was easy to feel lost in such a setting, or to feel like your voice simply wasn’t being heard. I was most excited for the “talking” aspect of discussion. Boy, was I ready to discuss.
I found the correct building on campus relatively quickly but hung around outside with a bit of trepidation. I didn’t want to be the first person to get to class. This was going to be the first opinion my peers were going to form of me, and it was necessary to establish myself as nonchalant. Cool. After waiting an amount of time that I deemed made me aloof and mysterious, I walked up to the door of the classroom and turned the handle.
It was locked.
Unbeknownst to me, discussion sections don’t happen if there isn’t a preceding lecture. There’s not a lot to discuss without any material. Whoops. With my schedule suddenly cleared, I didn’t know what to do with myself. My roommates, who I had met briefly in the days before, were all certainly in actual classes, and I hadn’t really had the opportunity to meet others at Berkeley. I wandered the campus for a moment, not really having a direction, and eventually settled in near the steps of Doe. And watched.
I watched people pass me by on their first days of class. I saw the students running late. I saw the multitasking students, the ones who were sneaking in a breakfast mid-commute. I saw students who, like me, didn’t seem entirely sure where they were heading. In these moments, I felt a bizarre sense of alienation, and I wasn’t entirely convinced that I would ever feel comfortable here. Or if I would ever truly find out my place on campus.
My last day of class was somewhat different.
It started similarly enough: only one class on the schedule, a film discussion. This time I was running quite late. By this point, I had timed my morning routine well enough that I could grab a quick coffee and still squeeze into class toward the tail end of Berkeley time. I was a practiced veteran at perfectly timed unpunctuality, perhaps my greatest skill learned during my two-year tenure. My carefully orchestrated lateness was challenged somewhat by the fact that I kept running into people I knew on my way to Dwinelle.
For my very last class, we were screening “Blade Runner 2049.” I had intentionally refrained from watching it, wanting to experience something new at the same time that my career at Berkeley was drawing to a close. While I enjoyed the movie, it was the resulting discussion that made this class my all-time favorite.
There were no more participation points to win, no final exam looming over us in this discussion. None of us had to be there (the last screening was entirely optional), but we all stayed for an hour after the movie ended, simply to talk. It started formally, with people raising their hands, but then dissolved into a polite conversation. I talked with so much contentment, with so much absolute enthusiasm for an environment that I’d never experienced before I came to Berkeley.
I didn’t want the class to end, and I feel the same way about my academic career.
I’ve met people here that I hope to remain lifetime friends with. I’ve taken incredible classes on science fiction and some of my favorite directors. I developed immense respect, and a healthy amount of fear, for my professors, and I’m sorry that I’m writing this right now instead of my final essays.
Mostly, the end feels bittersweet. Just as I figured out how Berkeley works, I find it’s time to say goodbye. I loved my time here, but if my first day was any indication, there might be something even better waiting for me in the future.