Most days after the 10 a.m. campus tour rush, the Koret Visitor Center is pretty dead. But last Saturday, a girl came in with her mom. I was prepared to give her the “reasons to come here” speech, but she was unlike the majority of our visitors — she’d already been admitted to UC Berkeley.
“Can you help me find my classes for the fall?” she asked, and the big sister in me perked up. We spent a few minutes circling buildings in Expo marker as she read me the locations of her classes from CalCentral. We both got excited when we realized they’re nearly all on Northside, where she’ll live in the fall.
After I told her that an hour is more than enough time to get to her one class on the west side of campus, she turned to leave with her mom, but then she stopped.
“What’s one piece of advice you have for an incoming freshman?” she asked. I told her to always bring an umbrella in the rainy season.
It was an asinine piece of advice, and she looked disappointed. Realizing how lame I was, I actually thought for a moment. “Don’t be afraid of rejection,” I surprised myself by saying. “You wouldn’t think it, but it’s hard to get into clubs here.”
Because I like to hear myself talk, I went on. I humble-bragged about winning a star attorney award in my home county’s mock trial tournament when I was 17, and I explained how I then completely flubbed my Cal Mock Trial tryout freshman year. I practiced every day the weekend before auditions — my roommate was out of town, and I used the chance to memorize two witness statements, pacing the room as I recalled every fact of the case. I scripted airtight direct examination questions and practiced those, too. I was ready.
When I showed up, I thought to myself: Don’t fuck this up; this is the only club you want to join. My evaluators sat at three rearranged desks in a Wheeler Hall classroom. They might have been wearing suits; they probably were not. I forgot every single fact from both witness statements and proceeded to completely make up two characters, both named “Susan.” Knowing I was not going to get a callback, I exited Wheeler and then cried and called my mom — as one does when they fail that terribly.
“All right,” I thought. “One club down, but whatever. There’s more than 1,200 student groups here.” I thought about joining The Daily Californian. Correction: I procrastinated on thinking about joining the Daily Cal.
Cut to me, in my dorm room two hours before the application was due, Googling “how to make a resume.” I turned in three pages of nonsensical details about my high school activities, a high school paper that vaguely mentioned “Flowers for Algernon” (a book I half-read junior year), a link to an excerpt of a book I wrote at 16 (which I’d used for college applications to prove I was serious about writing) and a confident list of my favorite media. I thought about how much I was going to love writing for The Daily Cal’s arts & entertainment department.
After two semesters as an editor for said department, I can confidently say that was one of the worst applications our newspaper has ever received. But I didn’t know that at the time, and I teared up when I got that rejection, too.
Flash-forward one semester — I applied to the Daily Cal, again, but this time to the night department. My grammar had always been well (that’s a joke, Night), so I thought I could join the paper’s language nerds. I finally knew how to make a resume, after all. Forgetting that I had won my sixth-grade spelling bee through nepotism, I failed to catch a misspelling of “Berkeley” and did not secure the position.
But at the same time, I also applied to the campus ambassador program. In my audition, I gave a sample tour speech, a multicolored board game dice in my hand. “See, you might roll a three and join Rally Committee. Or you might roll a five and end up writing for the Daily Cal. The possibilities are limitless!” I said, forgetting that there are only six sides to a standard dice. I got the job, but even then, I couldn’t let the Daily Cal go.
Fast-forward again one year. My former prom date Josh — whom I’d chosen because my all-girls Catholic high school didn’t let us take girls and who turned out to be the best part of my senior prom — was no longer an arts editor, a position he’d impressively held for nearly a year. During that time, I hadn’t applied, citing a made-up fear of only being hired because of nepotism, but actually worrying that one of my best friends would awkwardly reject me. I made it in — thanks, Kyle and Justin! — and now I run this bitch (for one more week).
“So basically, if I hadn’t kept applying and gave up, I’d probably still be a future attorney who didn’t even really know she liked writing, instead of a future arts journalist,” I said to that entering freshman.
She enthusiastically thanked me for spending that much time answering her question, probably not realizing it could’ve been boiled down to a 20-second spiel about not giving up.
But to any freshmen reading this: Really, don’t give up. You’re probably the way I was — an overly confident high school graduate who’s used to getting everything you applied for back in the day.
Once you start putting yourself out there and trying new things, life is going to completely smack you in the face, but that’s good. Keep reapplying. One day, you’ll run this bitch — whether this bitch is your life, this school or one of UC Berkeley’s 1,200 student groups. The world is your oyster, freshman, and you’ve got this — but feel free to swing by the visitor center sometime if you ever need some reassurance.
Contact Caroline Smith at [email protected].