Humble up: Learning how to have humility at UC Berkeley

Illustration of people standing in front of Sather Gate
Ariel Lung/Senior Staff

There’s something special about UC Berkeley’s reputation. Maybe it’s in the tall white walls of its buildings or the golden hills that sit behind them, or maybe it’s in the tall columns of its libraries. But beyond the grandeur of the campus itself, UC Berkeley’s reputation is also backed by its many accomplishments — home to the Free Speech Movement, Nobel laureates and the discovery of multiple chemical elements. But behind all of these accomplishments are, of course, UC Berkeley’s students — 40,000 of them.

That’s 40,000 hardworking, diligent people, following their own individual passions. That’s 40,000 individuals pursuing higher education for the benefit of themselves and society. And if these 40,000 people did not exist, neither would many of UC Berkeley’s accomplishments.

This is what drew me to UC Berkeley three years ago. And before I was student here, I can remember reading on and on about the campus’s long list of accomplishments. Soon, I would be attending one of the best public universities in the world. I would be sitting in front of and learning from some of the most academic and knowledgeable people in the world. I would be walking the same paths as so many famous alumni, walking the same streets where so much history has taken place. I couldn’t wait to become a part of UC Berkeley’s reputation and to contribute to its list of accomplishments.

But as my orientation leader guided my pack of wide-eyed freshmen through UC Berkeley’s maze of a campus, something occurred to me. I noticed that all of these notable facts about accomplished students, professors and faculty members were mentioned over and over again, constantly repeated, regardless of the occasion.

Coming from a small town where there weren’t many accomplishments to brag incessantly about, this took me by surprise at first. But as time passed and the marbled campus became my marbled home, this attitude became a way of life. Berkeley bragging was crucial to the jokes made on prominent meme accounts; it found its way into academic settings. Bragging even seeped out of some of UC Berkeley’s most noteworthy mouths, coming from people who didn’t need to repeat their already well-known accomplishments. It guided what seemed like almost every interaction at UC Berkeley, from lecture discussions to conversations at parties.

People have every right to share what they have accomplished and what they are proud of with friends, peers, mentors and others. It can be validation for oneself, and it can motivate the people around to do things they are proud of, too. But oversharing one’s accomplishments can also quickly push UC Berkeley’s hypercompetitive culture beyond what is tolerable, creating a toxic culture that no one is proud of and that debilitates both students and onlookers.

UC Berkeley has the power to create almost anything — from political movements to periodic elements. So why can’t the power we possess also be wielded to share our accomplishments in a humble way? Bragging doesn’t have to be a result of success. This campus has the power to maintain its competitive culture with humility. And the heart and drive that it instills in each of its students shouldn’t just be a result of its competitive culture. So this year, when the new students shuffle onto campus, staring up at the magnificent white-columned libraries, let’s do our best to share our long reputable history and our array of 40,000 accomplishments humbly.

Contact Emily Denny at [email protected].