An imperfect perfect Cal experience

All I wanted was the perfect college experience. And it already started out with the most imperfect of beginnings — the place.

Staying in the Bay Area for college, as a born and raised Alamedan, was hardly a choice of mine — financially, it was the only choice I could make. It was not a choice that thrilled me, as a born and raised Stanford fan turned Stanford Class of 2018 reject, but it truly was the only chance I had at that time to get a college degree.

So college wasn’t off to a great start, but it was time to make it the best it could be. I joined a sorority, lived in the perfect dorm room with my chosen soulmate of a roommate and picked classes that piqued my interest.

And then it happened.

It took me six months to understand what happened, mostly through learning what consent in relationships and sexual encounters truly meant. Sex to me, until I started at Berkeley, was to keep the men in my life around, to show them I was worthy of their attention and to gain popularity. As soon as I spent time at this university, in my sorority, and around so many unique individuals, and learned what consent truly meant, I finally understood the pit that had sat in my stomach since September 12, 2014.

I ignored it for a while, thought of it as a bad one-night stand, but after drinking so many times to forget it, breaking off tens of friendships for the bad behavior I would cause on nights out, the thousands of hurtful things I had said to myself and my partners, and darkening into a deep depression, I finally faced the truth.

It took friends believing in me, long talks, hours of crying, naps, almost failing a class, and a good support system to build me up after this traumatic event. I struggled to admit to myself that the perfect college experience I wanted had been ruined just 21 days in — all I wanted to do was defy the odds of my imperfect beginning and end up having the best four years of my life, despite not being at the university I had always dreamed of attending. Admitting that college had not been perfect, that my Instagram photos and talks about growth were all lies was one of the hardest things I had ever done in my then 20 years of life.

I was finally becoming whole again, when on September 15, 2017, 14 days after his cancer diagnosis, my seemingly perfectly healthy father passed away before I could even prepare for life without him. My father was my best friend, gave me my love of sports and my future career, gave me my clinical depression and anxiety, but more than anything loved me through everything I had ever been through and understood me like no one else ever had.

When you are finally becoming yourself again, and the mirror image of yourself shatters into little pieces in front of you, the pieces seem pretty much impossible to put back together.

But somehow, they did. Somehow I finally made it to all my therapy sessions, made it to my classes despite professors asking me to prove my father was dying of cancer and will graduate in just 11 days from when I write this with a double major in political science and media studies from the No. 1 public university in the world. The harsh professors, failing grades, tough love, friendships I lost, harsh words I said to myself all drove me to recoil back into myself after my second traumatic experience of college.

Looking back on college, that perfect four years I was looking for, the perfect college experience, never happened. The countless number of people who told me that college would be the best four years of my life were just plain wrong.

But, for four imperfect years, and all the hardships that came with it, college truly came with the best lesson I could hope to get from college — I became resilient. The imperfect experience of four years of Cal turned into the perfect growing experience to grow into the person I want to become.

And, if I truly am resilient, if I am “able to recoil or spring back into shape after bending, stretching, or being compressed,” Cal will not and can never be the best four years of my life. And that’s OK. Cal will always hold a special place in my heart for growing me into the best version of myself that I have been in my 22 years of life.

And if Cal wasn’t the best four years of my life, something else must be true.

The best?

The best is yet to come.

Maddie Heaps won second place in our Goodbye to All That essay contest. She is the former sports information director for Cal Men’s and Women’s Cross Country teams, as well as a student assistant for the media relations department of Cal Athletics. She is graduating with a B.A in Media Studies and Political Science.

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