I’ve got your back

Before every show, my improv comedy team runs through a few traditions. We sing together, jump around and get our energy up — and then we embrace each other, one at a time, and repeat the same phrase: “I’ve got your back.”

The weekend of my last show, these hugs lasted a few beats longer. We held each other just a little tighter. When I hugged some of my closest friends on the team — like Devin, Grace and Abbey — it was almost impossible to choke out the words “I’ve got your back” without tearing up.

After every show, the team does what’s called a check-out. Each member gives brief comments about the show, how they thought it went, or how we might improve for future shows. It usually takes about 30 minutes. That night, it took 90 minutes, and by the end, there was more mascara smudged under my eyes than left on my lashes.

I’m graduating a year early, and so I naturally spend a lot of time thinking about my hypothetical senior year. I think about the key moments in my friends’ lives that I was supposed to be present for by design. Winni’s 21st birthday, Friday night outings with Medha and Celina and road trips to Tahoe for retreat with Aslesha, Harry and Caroline all cross my mind, and so do life updates in the hallway with Aishwarya, debates about love with Manisha, team-ups with Anya to roast Kim and research meetings that turn into advice sessions with Emily, Bree and Qu.

I’ll never know which of my friends I would have gotten closer to in my senior year, and I’ll never know what opportunities may have come my way, or which new people I was supposed to have met, or whether I would’ve fallen in love again. And that really sucks. I find some solace in meaningful long-distance friendships with Sravya and Serena, which remind me that the most important relationships will always survive the test of distance, but there’s still a terrifying question I have to ask myself — by giving up the final year of my undergraduate career, am I sacrificing the opportunity to solidify the relationships that I’m hoping will last a lifetime?

When these thoughts race through my brain, they expose something important: The different families that I’ve found at UC Berkeley are among the most important things in the world to me.

The family I found at The Daily Californian is unlike any other. I remember Olivia and me navigating our first arts social together, staying glued to each other’s side — partially because we were both shy about meeting other people, and partially because we instantly knew that we were meant to be close friends. I remember sleeping on a mattress in Sophie’s living room only a week or so after we had met, and I could not have imagined that by hiring her as my assistant later that fall, I would also be gaining one of the most important role models in my life. Right up until the bitter end, when I found kinship in crisis with Chantelle, Rina and Victoria, I was amazed by this place and the opportunities it offered me. I came to write stories about art, and I left a leader.

It was at the Daily Cal that my reputation for being “powerful” was first forged. Kyle convinced me to go for an editorship, and that conversation sent me on a path that would ultimately culminate in me working on the upper management team. Along the way, different women — like Maisy, Annalise, Malini and Ketki — taught me how to express strength in myriad ways. I would take those lessons into each of my endeavors. I would never shy away from the opportunity to lead, to defend or to say what I mean.

My time at the Daily Cal is probably the reason that I’m not intimidated by the prospect of attending law school after spending three years studying biology. And it’s definitely the reason that I take shit from no man.

When I took a cheesy bow after my final improv show, many of the familiar faces from my found-families were in the crowd. Some were watching me perform improv for the first time; others had been coming to my shows for years. Their presence, both at these shows and in my life, is just an extension of that same pre-show ritual that nearly left me in tears. In a quiet, unspoken way, we’ve always been sending each other the same message: “I’ve got your back.”

I’m moving to the East Coast in August, but family doesn’t end with a graduation stole and a one-way plane ticket. I will have my Cal family’s back from 2,700 miles away, and that’s a commitment.

Shannon O’Hara was the staff representative for fall 2018 and spring 2019. She joined The Daily Californian in fall 2016 as an arts writer before becoming the arts columnist in spring 2017, assistant arts editor in summer 2017, arts editor in fall 2017, special issues editor in spring 2018 and theater and comedy beat reporter in summer 2018. She is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in molecular environmental biology and a minor in journalism.