Tour de force

My name is Caroline, my pronouns are she/her/hers, and I’ll be your tour guide today.

These are the three essential facts I provide before I begin a campus tour, though in retrospect the last one is a bit redundant, given my jacket, nametag and backward walk. I’ve said these words more than 70 times over the past four years to begin my campus tours, so I suppose they’re as good a way as any to begin my goodbye.

To be clear, on this campus tour, I am not serving as an official representative of UC Berkeley. This is more the speed of the unofficial shotgun tour I gave friends on my 21st birthday, which ended with the birthday gift of my first concussion. But like all of my tours, this one is a jolty combination of locations, anecdotes and facts.

Fun fact: I don’t have the best memory. It might be because of a history of depressive spirals, or it might be that my brain is broken in other fun ways. On average, I have to meet someone four times before I remember their face, and it takes me two to three months to remember someone’s name if I don’t write it down immediately after an introduction. I’m forever envious of detail-oriented writers because if I ever provide copious details on an autobiographical piece, I’m lying — I don’t, in fact, remember the color of the leaves or what jacket someone was wearing.

So when it comes to giving this tour, my final tour — my tour de force, if you excuse the pun — I think my feelings can be best summarized by a brilliant Maya Angelou quote that’s repeated far too often during graduation season: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I remember having fun and loving my friends, but I’m struggling to remember exact times or places or events.

Giving tours not only showed me where all of the buildings on campus were, but it also provided me with an all-too-comfortable script that I repeated over the next three years, omitting details such as “I live in Unit 3!” and “I want to go to law school!” But this meant that I said the same, mass-appeal anecdotes tour after tour and largely forgot the rest: the imperfect and strange and maybe-not-family-friendly stories. With this tour, I’ll force myself to remember them all.

Here’s Evans Hall, where I went to pledge meetings for a pre-law fraternity freshman year, back when being an ironic frat lord was my entire personality. Right ahead is Moffitt Library, where underneath the recently renovated floors, I’m presently writing this, sitting next to Shannon and farting. Here’s Sather Tower, where I spent my entire summer before sophomore year operating the claustrophobic elevator in a plush chair, which had its ups and downs. On our left is Wheeler Hall, where I’ve cried three times, twice from rejections — the mock trial team freshman year and Joyce Carol Oates’ fiction class senior year — and once last week, when I got sentimental and realized it would be one of the last times I would walk past this building.

We’ll cut across campus to The Daily Californian, the first place I felt a sense of purpose. Founded in 1871, the Daily Cal became independent from the university in 1971. Joining in spring 2017, I became irrelevant within the Daily Cal by spring 2019. But for a shining moment in time, after it had rejected me twice, I made that paper my entire life as assistant and executive arts editor — the best decision I made in college. I entered spring 2018 barely able to get out of bed after a bad break-up. I left it using the disgusting couch in the arts cubicle as my bed after many nights of my eyes watering: from laughing, from staring at computer screens for 16 straight hours and from wondering how I got so lucky to find these people.

Campus fun fact: Next year is the 150th anniversary of when women were first admitted to UC Berkeley. I’m petty about the fact that I’m graduating before the campus celebrates this for two reasons. First, I am a woman. Second, my campus experience has always been defined by girls and gays: the attendants of Queer Gal and NB Pal Brunch, the members of Delta Sigma Sarah, the texters of SCRAMM, the Daily Cal, my former prom date, my former pledge parents, my favorite professor, my thesis advisor, my boss, my roommate of four years (who’s sincerely offered to fight every person who’s wronged me) and my little sister, who leaves this campus with me (sorry that we hung out twice this year despite living two blocks apart; at least we have the rest of our lives for that).

As much as I wanted to end this tour with some advice or wisdom, I have yet to process my impending graduation. Maybe it’s because I can’t fit four years into 900 words, as hard as I try to shove them in like the loaves of Cafe 3 bread I’d jam into my freshman-year to-go box.

I wish this column had a solid nugget of advice, such as “Don’t quit trying” or “Find your niche” or “Always publish your rejections on the internet.” Instead, it’s ending up as just a random collection of facts and places and the memories that populate them, all trying to be the love sung of in Rihanna’s “Love on the Brain,” all fighting to remain on my mind even after I cross the Zellerbach Hall stage (built in 1968!) in my cap and gown. This collection of random knowledge — used time after time in the tours I’ve given — mixed with the anecdotes I’ve created with friends over the years is, I suppose, all that college is in the end.

Caroline Smith joined The Daily Californian in spring 2017 as an arts writer before becoming theater beat reporter and LGBTQ-media beat reporter in fall 2017; assistant arts editor in spring 2018; arts editor in summer 2018; and LGBTQ+-media beat reporter and editorial hiring manager in fall 2018. She is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in rhetoric and minors in creative writing and human rights.