There might not be a next year

From a distance, it looked old, flimsy and potentially unsafe. I didn’t know why anyone would risk life and limb to go on a death trap of a swing high above Berkeley, but one by one, the rest of the freshmen in front of me completed their rite of passage. By the time it was my turn, my initial feelings of uncertainty were gone — they had been replaced with excitement. 

The last time I returned to the Big C, all that remained was a single knot of rope latched to the tree. Even in memory, I can still feel the rush of sitting on the swing — the wind burning my face until I reached the very top and saw the Bay stretched out in front of me. In that moment, I remember sitting in stillness — being in awe of all the opportunities and experiences that awaited me. I never imagined that I would put myself in a position to lose everything. 

Although I am a sophomore with a little over two years left to go on paper, this semester may be my last on this campus. In the fall, I failed CS 61B, which dropped my technical GPA into hazardous territory. The College of Engineering is more unforgiving than its counterparts regarding academic probation — here, any lapse below a 2.0 automatically places a student on subject to dismissal status. I managed to remain above the cutoff and was not in imminent danger, but I had to come up with a game plan to get as far away from that cutoff as I could. I needed to fix my study habits and maintain academic stability with the objective of surviving the spring semester and the years to come. 

I wanted to get an A, but clearly, that thought alone was not enough. During my freshman year, I never set foot in a library. More often than not, my nights were spent at parties and not at my desk. When I fell behind, I told myself that all I needed to do was pass the class. I didn’t need to go to office hours or find a tutor to get a C-minus — I could do that myself. 

Today, I know that the mindset that I had in my freshman year was unsustainable in the long term — it would only hurt me as classes got harder. 

To preface, I’ve never delivered on a New Year’s resolution in my life. Two years ago, I said I would keep a journal; last year, I told myself that I’d get a CPR certification. Both times, I didn’t follow through. Nothing was going to happen to me if I didn’t keep that journal or get the certification, and because of that, it seemed like there was no reason for me to care. The immediate and substantial impact of my 2020 resolution on my future forced a much-needed reflection on what really motivates me. 

The culture of a New Year’s resolution revolves around development and positivity, but that may not be what yields results. To some, including myself, it would be far easier to develop a sense of urgency if a goal included an “or else.” We need to consider the real problems that could arise if we break the promises that we make to ourselves. After all, most of our resolutions are far from pleasurable — if we want to change, we need to be reminded of the things that we fear. In some cases of self-improvement, it may be more effective to focus on the consequences rather than the results.

“I will eat healthier because if I do not, I will become sick.”

“I will skip boba today because if I do not, I will have less money for my tuition.”

Rephrased, my New Year’s resolution reads like this — I will study hard and keep fighting for my place here because if I do not, I will lose the extraordinary people and truly unforgettable experiences that I care about at this school. 

The pages that make up my one year, five months and seven days at Berkeley are filled to their margins with memorable moments, many of which I regard as the best times of my life. I cannot recount the stories told at 2 a.m. over a piping-hot slice at Abe’s Pizza, nor can I describe the exhilaration of sneaking into the Claremont Country Club with my girlfriend on our first date. I can say with certainty, though, that those images are not going anywhere — they will be forever linked with UC Berkeley, a place that has both embraced my underachieving presence and challenged me like nothing else. 

Being optimistic feels pleasant, but in the context of a New Year’s resolution, harsh reality is far more functional. If I continue to fail, the moment that I cease to be a student at UC Berkeley will arrive far before I am ready to move on. After one and a half years, it’s time to shape up. It’s time to be unafraid to seek help, to go to 8 a.m. lecture and to finally say “no” to a party. 

Even though I’m halfway done, there is so much more to experience here in Berkeley. The possibilities that I saw from the swing at the Big C are still there waiting for me, and this time, I will not let them slip. 

Like my memories of this place, I don’t plan on leaving anytime soon. 

Contact Chanun Ong at [email protected].