Being Berkeley: A personal essay

Stephanie Li/File

Can you be in love with a place? Because that’s how I feel about Berkeley — utterly in love. And I don’t hesitate to say “in love” because how I feel about Berkeley is unconditional and irrevocable. Despite all of its flaws, and we know there are many (the overpacked classes, the torturous wait time in Sproul, the tough professors who give you a B instead of an A because you need to “push your thinking more”), Berkeley unquestionably remains my favorite place — my home.

So as I approach graduation, I keep beating into my mind that my time in Berkeley is over. It’s over, it’s over, it’s over. I have taken my last UC Berkeley class ever, crammed in my last study session at Moffitt, finished my last paper, done my last dodging of flyering on Sproul, written my last Daily Cal piece. This is it.

However, my time with Berkeley isn’t really over. Yes, I am graduating and will never be a student here again. Yes, I will be moving out of this special little city — yet the clichéd saying “You can take me out of Berkeley, but you can’t take Berkeley out of me” will undoubtedly hold true, because it already has. After leaving Berkeley during each school break to home and other cities, I still arrived 10 minutes after scheduled times, questioned every idea and theory I came across and stressed over what to compost and what to recycle, much to the annoyance of my friends and parents, who would complain and say something along the lines of how “Berkeley” I was.

Certainly, these indelible quirks of mine apply to most of the Berkeley community, but I find our shared Berkeley identity encompasses a more intangible, significant nature.

However, my time with Berkeley isn’t really over.

For one, “do anything, be anything” is an inherent part of the Berkeley essence. We can take classes taught by Nobel laureates, MacArthur Fellows and Pulitzer Prize winners, learn alongside future world leaders and innovators. We can major in social welfare and EECS, minor in human rights and LGBT studies. We can formulate new theories on representation and art, create better solutions to combating global poverty, discover the next chemical element, invent more sustainable sources of energy. We can be a writer studying astrophysics, or an athlete on the pre-med track, or a smart and edgy teen all at once (#UCBMFET). Here, the possibilities, our greatest potentials, constantly loom right before us, and those at UC Berkeley never stop in their pursuit to attain them.

And I suppose the pursuit for us never ends because what is incessantly beat into us at UC Berkeley is that good intentions and a decent amount of effort aren’t enough, that we can always do more, be more. Perhaps that makes us more cynical, often pushing us to our breaking points. Yet now everything after Berkeley will seem easier and less daunting. I find that this inclination to unceasingly work for higher standards also unites us, ensuring us that we’re not alone in the endless endeavor for the better, that others from Berkeley will perpetually try to better the world alongside us, as trite as that may sound.

However, I understand why so many of us Berkeley community members continue to be jaded by and bitter with this university. Countless groups of students remain marginalized and underrepresented. Lecturers, janitors and other staff members continue to be underpaid and underrecognized. Morally dubious actions have been conducted by leaders of the university without remorse. Rightfully so, we can be angry about this lack of resources, the oversight and the neglect by the UC Berkeley administration, but they do not define the Berkeley community. We define the Berkeley community — the dedicated researchers, the committed activists, the passionate scholars, the future game-changers.

When I first learned that Barrows Hall, this beautiful building I had class in almost every day, was named after a man who led the colonial movement in the Philippines — the country where my family is from — I was disappointed with my university, contemplating if I was less valued at UC Berkeley because this man who would have deemed me too inferior to gain a higher education had his legacy entrenched at my own school. Despite that, I knew that the Berkeley he represented is not the Berkeley I am part of now; he is no longer honored, instead becoming staunchly disowned by current students and professors, my Berkeley community. And that’s the beauty of UC Berkeley: It continually evolves with its students. Evidently, we have a complicated history — however, that does not diminish our current Berkeley identity nor threaten the greater potential it has to be in the future. We’re never truly done with Berkeley, just as the Berkeley identity is never permanently set, but always progressing in tandem with its ever-changing community.

Though this expansive, long-standing community inevitably possesses differences in beliefs, principles and backgrounds that can often clash with one another, being Berkeley often means that this doesn’t matter.

We’re never truly done with Berkeley, just as the Berkeley identity is never permanently set, but always progressing in tandem with its ever-changing community.

This past summer in New York, I recall feeling homesick as I ran through the monotonous, gray slabs of concrete in Hudson River Park, pressed down by the city’s layers of humidity and smog, making me long for my typical route through the clear air of Berkeley, under the lush, tree-lined streets of Claremont and Piedmont. As I rested on a bench, watching the swarms of New Yorkers blaze down the park, I noticed a gruff older man power-walking, loudly and rapidly speaking on his phone in a foreign language — someone obviously from a different culture and a far different generation from mine. I would have never noticed him if not for the reassuring royal blue and gold “Cal” printed on his cap. Once he noticed me watching him, I expected him to scowl at me. Instead, he noted the “Go Bears!” brandished on my shirt, quickly tipping his cap at me with a congenial smile before continuing on his way.

This exchange with strangers bearing Cal gear is only one of many I have had in places like Hawaii, Spain and England; they never fail to remind me that the outside world isn’t as overwhelming and lonely as it may seem, all because of this shared blue and gold emblem we adorn. Regardless of our differences, or how immense this world is, we remain bound together through this remarkable, intricate web of a university community, this prevailing Berkeley identity.

And that’s what we need to remember once we leave Berkeley: that we share this complex but exceptional Berkeley identity with a colorful myriad of people and overachievers, that what we have learned and gained at this university — the moral courage, the critical knowledge, the work ethic, the passion —  is permanently embedded into our inherent nature. We need to remember that being part of Berkeley does not mean forever being a student or professor at this university, because this community extends far beyond Sather Gate and Memorial Glade and spans the globe from California to China to New Zealand, that we can always come back and it won’t be visiting an old place we’re faintly familiar with.

It will be returning home.

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Contact Katrina Fadrilan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @katfadrilanDC.