Best of Berkeley: Campus 2021

Illustration of Wheeler Hall
Nerissa Hsieh/Staff

Best building: Wheeler Hall Auditorium

Photo of Wheeler Hall

Vanessa Lim/Staff

In many ways, Wheeler Hall Auditorium is the picture of academia. From its classical white exterior to its old-school wooden desks, from the central lecture hall once packed with students to the tiny offices bursting with books of every size and color, stepping into Wheeler feels like jumping headfirst into a Donna Tartt novel.

It’s fitting, then, that Wheeler Hall is the home of UC Berkeley’s English department. In the days of yore, a walk through its upper floors would present you with the sound of animated voices discussing everything from Shakespeare and Spenser to Morrison and Vuong — as well as the sight of ill-prepared students flipping through their books before class. 

Scenes such as these may feel as though they belong to another life, one that existed before “burnout” and “Zoom fatigue” became permanent fixtures in our vocabulary, but that doesn’t mean they’re gone forever. Wheeler Hall may be nothing more than a pretty symbol right now yet, there’s something to be said for the power of symbols. Those marble steps stand strong; soon enough, they’ll carry a new generation of students into Wheeler’s open arms.

To paraphrase Billy Joel, Wheeler waits for you. 

— Lauren Sheehan-Clark


Best library: Doe Memorial Library 

Photo of Doe Library

Sunny Shen/File

UC Berkeley is home to more than 20 libraries sprawled across campus — large and small, known by many and known by few. When it comes to which is best, it’s difficult for Doe Memorial Library to not come out on top. It commands a certain presence on campus with its classical-style architecture, standing tall before Memorial Glade. As one enters the north entrance beneath Athena’s gaze, there are many places tucked within where they can study or explore.

The lobby has the looks of a museum, numerous exhibits dotting its floor. Down the hall to the left is Gardner Main Stacks, four underground floors with more books than imaginable. Upstairs are the North and East Reading Rooms, boasting Roman-arched windows and hand-carved wood ceilings, respectively.

In addition, there is a wildly extensive collection of newspapers and microforms on the basement level, various quaint study spots and, of course, the vintage gem that is Morrison Library. And all this is just the beginning of what’s inside this Berkeley castle of knowledge. 

— Kathryn Kemp


Best faculty member: Kent Lightfoot

Photo of Kent Lightfoot

Sunny Shen/Senior Staff

Kent Lightfoot gives you everything you could want in a professor, from approachability to interesting content. His friendly and upbeat demeanor turns online lectures into an inviting and lighthearted space, which is truly an impressive feat this year.

Lightfoot is clearly passionate and thoughtful about his work, which made the fire ecology and anthropology course I took with him all the more interesting. It doesn’t hurt that the course is co-lectured by Scott Stephens, another widely respected professor. Lightfoot and Stephens bounced ideas back and forth at times, which made it feel like I was listening to a podcast rather than sitting in a Zoom room, and I say that with the highest of compliments.

Whether you come to class for Lightfoot’s his stories about his wife, Roberta, his extensive collection of Hawaiian shirts or the actual class content, you can rely on his lectures to be a bright spot in the monotonous world of remote classes.

— Maya Akkaraju


Best student-athlete competing in NCAA men’s sports: Nikolaos Papanikolaou

Photo of Nikolaos Papanikolaou

Ireland Wagner/Senior Staff

Some players go through a sophomore slump, but some are just stellar sophomores. Case in point, Cal men’s water polo player Nikolaos Papanikolaou.

Not only did the center rack up the accolades this year, earning MPSF Player of the Year honors and a spot on the 2021 MPSF All-Tournament team, but he also led his team to victories — Cal finished the season with an impressive eight wins. 

Even when ignoring the statistics, Papanikolaou’s layered skill set and intangibles made Cal the juggernaut it was this season, playing a huge role in the Bears earning the No. 1 ranking in the nation for three consecutive weeks. 

While Cal fell short of the national championship game this season, Papanikolaou’s ability to perform under pressure was put on full display. Having already displayed his immense potential, the sophomore center is poised for greatness. As his role expands, expect Papanikolaou to lead Cal to that coveted national championship. 

— Justin Kim


Best student-athlete competing in NCAA women’s sports: Kyana George

Photo of Kyana George

KLC Fotos/Courtesy

After a devastatingly abrupt end to 2020’s record-breaking season, standout gymnast Kyana George came back stronger than ever this year, assisting the Bears to a No. 6 national ranking, a small but significant gain from last year’s No. 9 standing.

George won 16 events this year alone and has accumulated 42 first-place finishes throughout her four-year career. On April 6, after a vote from regional coaches, the all-arounder from McKinney, Texas, was named regional gymnast of the year by the Women’s Collegiate Gymnastics Association. She’ll lead the blue and gold at the NCAA championships in her home state April 16-17.

Outside of the gym, George is studying social welfare with a minor in early development and learning science. She hopes to work in occupational therapy after her athletic career comes to a close. George has proven herself as a team player on and off the competition floor — perhaps that’s why this is her second consecutive Best of Berkeley title!

— Sarah Siegel


Best UC Berkeley performing group: Cal Band

Photo of Cal Band performing at Haas Pavillion

Karen Chow/File

It’s late afternoon on a fall Saturday. Bancroft Avenue is littered with blue and gold clothing donned by young college students, season ticket holding alumni who are now grandparents and just about everyone in between. Cal won its football game up the hill at Memorial Stadium just a bit ago, and several blocks below, there’s a feeling still suspended in the air of camaraderie and community.

It feels as though nothing could improve the atmosphere — but then, Cal Band marches down the street, tooting horns and drumming drums. The grandparents and their grandchildren hoot and holler, clapping in sync with arguably the best band in the country as it plays “Fight for California.” The band brings to the people a feeling of awe, excitement and amazement — the same feelings they experienced in the stadium as they watched the band win the game at halftime. For a few moments on Bancroft, restaurant-goers, shoppers and talkers all stop what they’re doing to take in the musicians’ talent and to sing and clap along with them. Cal Band brings euphoria to the streets of Berkeley.

— Surina Khurana


Best DeCal: Life Skills: Intro to Baking

Photo of Baking Decal Facilitators

David McAllister/Staff

College credit and “Cake Boss” coalesce in UC Berkeley’s famed DeCal “Life Skills: Intro to Baking.” As its title implies, the student-led course is designed to equip young adults with the practical experience and personal assuredness to make a wide variety of baked goods, from cookies and cheesecake to pies and mousse. 

Photo of facilitators holding baking materials

But let’s not sugarcoat it: This DeCal’s application process is competitive. “Intro to Baking” has a lower acceptance rate than UC Berkeley. Though getting accepted is no piece of cake, the course itself is much more relaxed and lighthearted.

As a proud alumna, I can confidently affirm that “Intro to Baking” is all about instilling growth and inspiring confidence.

Some recipes are harder than others, but the repeated trials of you and your baking partner are all in good fun — and in good taste. Like the breads that you make, you and your baking buddy will rise to the occasion. Don’t let this fun opportunity go stale; it’s the DeCal that makes dreams crumb true.

— Maya Thompson


Best student housing: David Blackwell Hall

Photo of Blackwell Dorm

Ryan Kendrick/File

When David Blackwell Hall first opened in fall 2018, it was, as they say in “Bridgerton,” the unquestionable diamond of the season. Though plain on the outside, the square, yellow-and-white building carried an almost mythical allure: Rumors of its penthouse-quality views and infinite washing machines spread throughout the campus, and sighs of jealousy could be heard every time the name “Blackwell” was uttered aloud. To students living in crowded triples or washing their clothing in small, oft-flooded laundry rooms, Blackwell seemed like more than just a residence hall — it was another world entirely.

It’s been more than two years since then, and though dorm life has lost much of its appeal to self-sequestering procedures and frequent COVID-19 scares, the facilities at Blackwell remain as attractive as ever. The numerous laundry rooms and study areas mean that students are rarely fighting over space, while the vertical layout of the bedrooms, though controversial at first, allows each resident a sense of privacy and solitude not often experienced in dorm life.

It seems the rumors are true, Berkeley: Blackwell really does have it all. 

— Lauren Sheehan-Clark


Best lecture hall: Wheeler 150

Photo of Wheeler Auditorium

Allen Zeng/File

For the third year in a row, Wheeler 150 has been dubbed the best lecture hall — deservedly so. Located near Sather Gate, this massive auditorium warrants special recognition for its capacity to hold 744 eager students.

One could make the argument that there is no better environment to learn in than this airy room with high ceilings and a wooden podium stationed at the front. Though this year’s freshman class will not experience attending its very first college class in Wheeler 150, I can attest that waiting outside the room along with other Math 1A students, in anticipation of the beginning of lecture, was a feeling of intimidation unlike any other. Upon entering the auditorium, however, I was struck by how it looked exactly like what I expected my first large college class to look like, and I was relieved that it was filled by hundreds of other freshmen just as nervous for their first day of class as I was. 

Wheeler 150 does exactly what an auditorium should do — host a large group of people comfortably — but goes above and beyond to give students the in-person college experience they deserve. 

— Mia Horne


Best bathroom: Doe Memorial Library (4th floor) 

Photo of Doe Library Fourth Floor bathroom

David Rodriguez/File

How much potential does a bathroom really have to cease and amaze? The answer is not much. But the women’s bathroom on the fourth floor of Doe Library surpasses all expectations. 

It appears ordinary at first, but as one rounds the corner toward the stalls, they’ll notice floor-length windows that open unto a petite balcony. The original reason for the bathroom visit is forgotten in a moment as intrigue takes over. From this unassuming spot, there is a striking view of the west side of campus and the Bay Area on the horizon. Berkeley feels small for once, comprising a cohesive, yet eclectic assortment of buildings — located in both an urban and lush area, beside the water, across from the city. 

Stepping back inside, the initially lackluster and dingey space now bears an ethereal charm. The bathroom is not known to many, but this lends it all the more allure.

— Kathryn Kemp


Best place to reunite after COVID-19: Memorial Glade

Photo of Memorial Glade

Vanessa Lim/Staff

Life is starting to seep slowly back onto Memorial Glade. Multicolored blankets and towels create a patchwork quilt against the grass, with the occasional Spikeball net filling in the green blank spaces between groups. The Glade, as it sits in a curved, almost concave space surrounded by the libraries, is a place where student laughter seems to bounce off the walls and create a soft hum — the sound of spring. The way the sun hits, just in the peak of a hazy fall afternoon or on a sweltering day in summer, seems to be a partial antidote to the many hours spent in Main Stacks that blur into one fluorescent migraine and the never-ending heaps of assignments.

I look forward to the days where I’ll skip a class because I run into friends or get antsy during a four-hour shift at Yali’s Café, because I know when I clock out, the Glade will be the first place I go. May this next year come with more moments like the last few mid-Aprils, where Cal Day and other festivities bring together large masses of the Berkeley student population to celebrate our campus’s outdoor space — and our larger community that amalgamates around it.

— Francesca Hodges