Birds of a feather: Why UC Berkeley school spirit is bigger than our physical campus

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If you weren’t aware, there’s a piece of prime real estate at the top of the Campanile at the heart of UC Berkeley. Don’t get your hopes up if you’re in the market for a new roost, though — this unit is already occupied by a family of peregrine falcons. Even if it somehow were available, can you imagine how expensive it would be? I shudder at the thought …

Every year since 2017, mating pair Annie and Grinnell have maintained their tradition of laying and raising their young at the top of the Campanile in an inconspicuous box of gravel that serves as their nest. Subdued as this setup may be, Annie, Grinnell and their chicks have some of the best views the Bay has to offer and the entirety of UC Berkeley’s presently empty campus as their playground.

Watching the young falcons — aptly named Redwood, Poppy and Sequoia — fledge and tepidly try their talons at hunting every evening was one of the few consistent things I relied on in a summer of turmoil. As surely as the Campanile would be bathed in golden light at dusk, the falcons would be out.

For as magical as it is to watch such graceful creatures flit around at sunset, I found myself envious of them as well. They seemed so comfortably removed from the world, still moving at a headlong pace through a life that has been put on pause for our own species. I wished I could become one just for a night — to take one flight over campus, deserted as it is, and see all of the places I long to visit.

But as beautiful as a vacant campus is, it’s not half as captivating as it is when it’s teeming with life. More than anything, I humbly wish just to walk through a crowded campus full of peers from every corner of the globe on my way to a class I’d inevitably be late for. I ache to balance a ripping hot coffee from Caffe Strada while ever so delicately clambering into the seat of a jampacked lecture hall.

I’d give a limb to pull an all-nighter at Main Stacks — well, OK, maybe not, but I would give just about anything to sit inside Doe Library as brilliant streams of light pour through the window and signal the end of a day of hard work. Like so many others, I wish I could go to office hours, football games, coffee shops, friends’ apartments, classrooms, reference desks, parks, gyms — anywhere, really, with other students.

Because at the end of the day, this enchanting campus would be nothing without the brilliant people who make it up.

UC Berkeley students, faculty and staff are united by common denominators that make this institution world-renowned. Resilience has defined UC Berkeley since its founding in 1868, lasting through two world wars, virulent pandemics, civil unrest, wildfires, earthquakes and protests. In some years, it’s lasted through multiple at once — like this one, for instance.

The individuals of this school have discovered elements, governed states, won gold medals and World Cups, made breakthroughs in public health, pioneered human rights campaigns, shattered records and created technology that has changed the world. It’s an incredible feeling to sit in a lecture hall full of students and think about who and how many will go on to do the same.

We may not be able to join one another on campus right now, but UC Berkeley’s school spirit comes from the spirited, sharp souls who attend it, not the buildings in which they showcase their talents. Even if Zoom is the closest we’ll get to interacting this semester, that same spirit remains, dynamic and robust as ever — a virtual “Go Bears!” is still a “Go Bears!”

The first time I stepped back on campus after quarantining at home for months, I felt almost as if the campus and I had been in a fight. There was a lot of awkward silence and trepidation, and we both felt pretty empty. But it was here that I, like Redwood, Poppy, Sequoia and many others, had gotten my wings and learned to fly.

The mantra of our school is “Fiat Lux,” Latin for “Let there be light.” There will be darkness, but the bright people that form the soul of UC Berkeley will always create light golden enough to make any Bear of the same luster proud.

Emily Ohman is the sports editor. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @emilyohman34.