I’ve always loved Disneyland.
My dad constantly told me throughout my childhood that the whole “Happiest Place on Earth” thing was just a marketing ploy, but there’s just something about the park’s pristine cheeriness that lets me forget my worries. (“Hakuna Matata,” am I right?) When I visit, I focus on experiencing as many attractions as possible, which is why Disneyland’s Single Rider service is a godsend.
According to Disneyland’s website, the Single Rider service allows visitors to “squeeze more magic into (their) stay by reducing wait times at popular park attractions.” Visitors allow their groups to be split up and seated individually so that they can spend less time waiting for the right amount of seats for their groups and more time actually enjoying the many attractions at the park.
During my first summer of college, I decided to take advantage of UC Berkeley’s equivalent of the Single Rider service by graduating in three years instead of four, finessing my way through courses that met multiple requirements and spending a summer abroad taking classes for my major.
Once the idea dawned on me, I felt like a genius who had cracked the system (never mind that people have done it before). It would save my family and me money, and I’d get a sense of pride from being able to say I graduated early from one of the best universities in the world. There seemed to be no drawbacks.
But of course, as with Disneyland’s Single Rider service, there are. On the website, Disney has included a “Know Before You Go” section to lay out the conditions of its service, such as, “Immediate boarding or choice of seat is not guaranteed,” and “Special seating requests may not be accommodated.”
Among the conditions of graduating in three years is the terrifying fact that I’m largely heading out into the Great Unknown by myself because most of my friends are juniors and sophomores. Sure, we’ll try to stay in touch, but it won’t be the same. For instance, we won’t have the shared experience of trying to finish a semester’s worth of work within one week in Moffitt anymore. And we’ll all most likely be in different cities, trying to wrangle decently priced apartments and figure out taxes on our own.
Graduating early also means that I’ve had to try to pack the Perfect College Experience into a shorter amount of time than most of my peers, which is, of course, impossible.
Within three years, I’ve met incredible people who I know are going to be my lifelong friends. I had my heart broken more times than anyone should in such a short period of time. I joined The Daily Californian. I’ve been in a near-constant state of exhaustion. I was a student of some of the most brilliant minds in the world. I had literal breakdowns over literary theories I couldn’t grasp because, oh, my God, if I can’t understand Gérard Genette’s theory on narratology, should I even be an English major?
Whenever people ask me about how college has been, I remember everything I’ve said above and sum it up by saying, “It’s been a hell of a ride.”
Which is when it clicks: College isn’t an interminable waiting line that I should have whizzed past as a Single Rider — it’s an attraction all on its own, with significant bumps and malfunctions, as all good rides have.
Between all the memes about UC Berkeley being a hellhole and society’s glorification of people who reach milestones at younger ages than their peers, I’ve been too impatient to get out of here. I’ve reached the finish line without doing all the things I wish I could have done. I didn’t pursue a research assistant position with one of the many renowned professors here. I haven’t written as many stories for the Daily Cal as I wish I could have. I haven’t hung out with my friends as much as I should have.
I’ve kept my eyes closed throughout the whole ride, and now I’m reaching the top of the conveyor belt lift. I’m approaching the 50-foot plunge known as graduation, and my stomach is in knots — partly out of fear, partly out of regret for not having savored each moment properly or even gone out to pursue different experiences entirely.
But I’m comforted by the fact that this isn’t the only ride in the park. College may be a classic, but there are plenty of other attractions in this theme park — with plenty more to be built.
So with my Mickey Mouse Ear Hat of a graduation cap pressed tightly to my head, I’m ready to take the plunge and take on the next ride with my eyes wide open.