I’ve mentioned it a few times, even in the Cal Day issue my freshman year, but my first name is Berkeley. My family’s bled blue and gold way before my naming though, given how my dad and one of my uncles are alumni. The Cal spirit continued as I grew up and one of my baby photos has me lying on a UC Berkeley rug. In second grade, when asked where I saw myself in the future, I wrote that I wanted to go to UC Berkeley.
Suffice to say that I’ve been preparing to attend UC Berkeley for basically my whole life.
Imagine my devastation, then, when I learned that graduation was canceled. I’m going to graduate, don’t get me wrong; I’m talking about the celebration. No one in my year is going to get to graduate, across the nation, across the world.
The things going on around the world right now are, in summation, heart-wrenching. The coronavirus pandemic and the lives lost are a tragedy. People are dying en masse. The current state of the world is intense. Many nations have enacted partial travel bans or have closed their borders altogether. UC Berkeley’s campus is mostly closed, as are most schools and mass crowd gathering spots. Missing out on graduating, while it means worlds to me and those who would have walked in spring 2020, seems to be a pinprick in the overarching problems that span the planet.
And as that revolves around us all, I am sitting in my childhood bedroom, writing my second-to-last column for you. At the end of May, I won’t be calling myself a UC Berkeley student. Looking out at the vast expanse of a future I’m unprepared for, I like to think instead of the past.
College is objectively the wildest roller coaster I’ve ever been on. I started freshman year with a new haircut, as all new things should begin. I pulled my first true all-nighter the same year too, sitting in the seventh-floor lounge of Freeborn as I edited stories for a special issue and finished a six-page essay due the next day. I watched the back of the sunrise, sitting on the balcony wrapped in the comforter off of my bed. I joined clubs, like the Daily Cal and the club water polo team, and I hung out with people who lived in the dorms I lived in and people I had met in my classes, just trying to find my niche. This proved, in my freshman year, much harder than I thought it would be, but I didn’t regret anything that I tried. It was a heap of new experiences, none that I could have predicted and many that I loved.
In sophomore year, it was still surprisingly different. I thought I had finally gotten the swing of things at college. I went to my first college party, and then I went to many more. I pulled all-nighters with friends, staying up finishing papers and articles. We sat in the third-floor lounge of Martinez Commons and watched the sunrise, a finished 10-page essay sitting open on my laptop. I became an assistant news editor. I quit water polo.
Junior year was much of the same, taking on new roles at the newspaper and even studying abroad. I made friends from New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, Thailand and a variety of other nations. I covered protests, a few that grew violent. I got three more piercings and decided to dye my hair blue. I picked up a minor, and then another minor.
None of this was in my plan when I was in second grade or senior year of high school, but it’s what happened.
And now, I’m a senior, and I’m leaving. My hair is as long as it was senior year of high school and has gone back to its natural color. I’m going to be leaving college soon, without the graduation ceremony I had planned for. There are many things that aren’t going to plan now, many things that are turning out different, but that’s almost a part of college and definitely a part of life. Wrenches get thrown into the cogs regularly, so all I’ve found that I can do is prepare for my preparation to be thrown to the wind.
The more I think about what I’d expected out of college, I realize I didn’t enter with any actual expectations. I focused so much on getting into college that I never considered what my college experience might look like, other than that it would be a continuation of high school and the furthering of my education. I definitely went in expecting to learn.
There’s definitely no way that I could have predicted or even planned for the events of this, my final semester. I’m watching lectures from my childhood bedroom, staring at my graduation cap and gown, which sit on my dresser still wrapped in plastic. One of my closest friends had a birthday last week, and the most that I did to celebrate was calling her on FaceTime with some of our other friends to wish her a happy birthday. In actuality, we were all hoping to party, go to her apartment and coalesce in the presence of good company. We would have taken graduation photos together in early May, and we probably would have gone to Kip’s or Triple Rock to celebrate.
A lot has changed worldwide, in ways that we couldn’t have imagined. My life has changed in a way that I couldn’t have prepared for. But if college has taught me anything, it wasn’t to prepare for the unexpected, but to prepare to be unprepared for the unexpected.