A check box for the little things

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Checking boxes is human habit. “I have read and agreed to these terms and conditions.” Check. “Accept cookies on this site?” Check. “Unsubscribe from all future emails.” Check. In online paperwork, we signify our gender, race and ethnicity in the same way we proclaim our preference for “black beans” on a mobile Chipotle order form: more checks in more check boxes. 

Most of these box-checking endeavors are mindless and rather inconsequential. Contrary to what the check mark denotes, terms and conditions often go unread. Demographic traits are ones you’ve shared a million times before, and failing to unsubscribe from an email list should not drastically alter your life’s path — nor should picking brown beans over black, for that matter. 

However, when I looked at the blank check box next to “Berkeley” while filling out my UC system application four years ago, it was not a check box I was quick to fill in. Instead, I looked at it with reluctance.

The mindless and rather inconsequential box-checking theme should have been applicable for this list of UC campuses: all were great schools, and the worst case was that if I got into one but didn’t love it, I didn’t have to go. But as my mouse hovered over the empty square, I couldn’t help but envision UC Berkeley as the place I had, for some reason, concluded it to be: dull and depressing. 

As someone who grew up just an hour’s drive south of campus, I was not originally enamored by UC Berkeley’s proximity. I had always envisioned truly going to college, whether by means of a plane or Interstate 5. I also believed that either I wasn’t qualified enough to get in, or that if I was, then I should at least get into another one of my “reach” schools I’d pick over UC Berkeley anyways.

But beyond anything, my reluctance stemmed from hours spent scrolling through the humorous yet self-deprecating UC Berkeley Memes For Edgy Teens Facebook page. Here, Arthur cartoons with thousands of likes and comments normalized depression, and photoshopped images of Bernie Sanders suggested future failure. Adding to this intimidation were the endless Reddit threads on grade deflation, safety concerns and absurd competition.

Looking back now, the perception I had of UC Berkeley as a senior in high school saddens me immensely. 

A Cal Day visit and four years later, it is safe to say it was the best box I ever checked. Though I know I can only speak on behalf of my own experience, I have come to love just about everything UC Berkeley has to offer.

Still, my qualms as a high schooler were not unreasonable. I will never be sure how I managed to survive organic chemistry, and there have been plenty of instances where I’ve struggled to find confidence in myself and my accomplishments among such high-achieving peers. The aspect that saddens me is that these stereotypes about UC Berkeley can be exaggerated by internet banter in a manner that turns certain people away. I also struggle with the fact that a lot of the little things that make UC Berkeley so special are rarely incorporated in these online threads. It is these little things that I will miss most.

I will miss watching the sky fade from blue to pink to orange as the sun kisses the Golden Gate Bridge before sinking into the Bay. I will miss the early April hikes up the fire trails just after everything starts to bloom when allergies are brutal, but the views are worth every sniffle. I will miss the holiday lights on Sather Gate after a long day on campus and the way “Fight for California” echoes through a gym, field or stadium after a Cal victory. I will miss the passion of my professors, whether about their tuberculosis research of the birth of two peregrine falcons at the Campanile. I will miss the passion of my peers, however forcefully they try to get a flyer in my hand on Sproul Plaza.

UC Berkeley is home to such a range of students, and everyone has a different perspective. Its “competitive atmosphere” can translate to vibrant class conversations, leaving you with refined opinions. Larger class sizes make for plenty of study buddies, and you can still get A’s if you put in the work. With time, you can find your people and your niche. 

Class of 2025, just as you may agree to those “terms and conditions” without having fully read them, taking the plunge into Berkeley without truly knowing what you are in for is OK. You were accepted into the school for a reason, and you are poised to do great things. Don’t forget to enjoy the little ones along the way, too.

Contact Allie Coyne at [email protected].