On my own time

Commencement? Go on ahead — I’ll probably be late.

If you’ve ever bumped into me on campus, I was probably attempting to turn a comfortable 15-minute stroll into a brisk 10-minute power walk. Maybe I was running late to dinner with friends (sorry, friends). Or to my first class of the day — yes, even on Berkeley time. It could be either of those, or more — I’ve lost track by now.

It’s not that I intentionally put things off all the time — I just try to put every free second that I have to good use. All those assignments I turned in at 11:59 p.m.? I was obviously perfecting my research up until that point and totally didn’t begin writing the day of.

Fortunately, I usually end up being on time anyway. The pain I put my brain and legs through for those last few minutes pays off. But it all changed when I entered the fall semester of my senior year.

All of a sudden, I wasn’t just rushing between classes and clubs anymore — I was hurtling from event to lecture, from work to meeting. I fit a newspaper editorship, a club presidency, two part-time jobs and four classes into a single semester (let’s not account for sleep here), and I prided myself on how organized I was. My Google Calendar was a sea of bright yellow, with the few vacant white patches of time gradually fading.

It’s worth it, I told myself. I only had four years in college to see, do and experience as much as I could. And so I committed all my waking — and, soon, my sleeping — hours to exploring all that UC Berkeley had to offer.

I raced against time, carefully fitting pieces of multiple puzzles into one frame. I could shoot this sports game for half an hour, then cover that grand opening event and still make it in time for an evening of production. But my so-called productivity came at a cost. I started thinking about my next task while working on the current one. I was late — many times. And breaks? I’m not familiar with the term.

I worked toward completion — of newspaper issues, meetings and the semester. Each day became about checking off tasks: during class, right before work, at 3 a.m. It was the only way I could make sure I had enough time for the next one.

But in my efforts to balance my loaded semester, I failed to keep myself in the present. I spread myself too thin by believing that getting everything done, reaching the finish line, was what mattered.

When I told myself that cramming in all the work I could find would be worth it, I was partly right. The feeling of satisfaction after concluding my positions didn’t matter as much as the memories and friends I had made while doing so. Long after graduation, I (hopefully) won’t be thinking back on all the biology material I managed to cram before the midterm, or the club meetings that I spent writing emails for another organization. I’ll remember getting lost on my first hike to the Big C. I’ll remember producing in The Daily Californian office at 4 a.m. with the most dedicated people I know. I’ll remember setting up for Berkeley Project Day as the sun slowly rose over the pitch-black skies above Sproul Plaza.

I’ll remember shooting more sports games than I ever thought I would even watch in my life. I’ll remember seeing a total solar eclipse. And I’ll remember the spontaneous dessert runs, board game (read: Avalon) nights and the many free events that I’ve dragged my friends along to.

I’m so grateful for everyone who has reminded me to value each day, hour and minute for what they are. I only wish I had slowed down to spend more time making memories.

To Amanda, Dani and Stephanie — thank you for all of your passion for photography, for Waffle Wednesdays and for everything that you do.

To Luz — thank you for lighting up the photo room and keeping me sane during crazy hours.

To Josh — thank you for writing the words to my photos. See you in the next file.  

To everyone at the Daily Cal — you inspire me. Thank you for an unbelievable four years.

To my Berkeley Project family — there’s no one else I’d rather wake up with at 4 a.m. on a Saturday.

To Yvonne — thank you for being brilliant and saving me countless times.

To Elizabeth — thank you for knowing that I’m going to be late and always being there anyway.

To my family — thank you for your endless care and support. I couldn’t have done it without you.

To mark the end of my four years at the Daily Cal, this column is my first — and final — written piece for the paper, publishing two days before I graduate. Here’s hoping that it’ll be my last race against the clock.

For a while, anyway.

Karen Chow joined The Daily Californian in fall 2015 as a staff photographer before becoming web producer in summer 2017, assistant social media editor in fall 2017, assistant photo editor in spring 2018, photo editor in fall 2018 and editorial hiring manager in spring 2019. She is graduating with bachelor’s degrees in integrative biology and molecular and cell biology.