A promise kept

I still have the PDF of my acceptance letter to UC Berkeley saved on my computer. I sometimes ask myself why I never bothered to drop it in the trash bin. I had never once opened it up to reminisce. Until just now, I probably hadn’t read it a single time since the week it came roughly two years ago. But after so many times noticing it there out of the corner of my eye without giving in to the urge to let it go, I’ve realized that it fulfills a valuable purpose. It’s a reminder — a tiny cluster of pixels that proves I can keep a promise to myself. 

The day I enrolled in my first college courses, I silently swore to myself that I’d do whatever it took to transfer to UC Berkeley. I’d staggered my way through high school with no direction, only to graduate with no plans and find myself years later wondering what I would do with my life. It felt as though I’d let so much time slip away. It was time to take things seriously, and getting into my dream school would be the first step.

As I set about my newfound commitment, I saw myself in Berkeley, taking part in meaningful projects, forging new friendships and discovering myself in profound ways that would define the rest of my life. But a couple of years later when the letter arrived to affirm that I’d fulfilled my promise, the exhilaration I felt was quickly overcome by something else. The joy captured in a moment brimming with tearful laughs and hugs was almost instantly obscured by an implacable sense of urgency. How would I ever cram a lifetime’s worth of experiences into two short years?

That sense of urgency remained months later when I started my new life at UC Berkeley. Throughout the many beautiful moments — the first memories with new friends, the discoveries, the small victories — I could all but hear the clock on the Campanile ticking away, every hourly orchestra of gongs marking another moment closer to having to say goodbye. 

I can remember feeling the smile of accomplishment fall from my face at the end of my first semester as I recalled the uncomfortable truth that it was only a matter of time until it was all over. One down, just a few more to go, I thought.

But as I sit writing this column, days away from taking my last final exams of undergrad from my desk at home and a mere week away from watching commencement from my laptop, I can’t help but chuckle at how I managed to take this period of my life so seriously. The truth is that the expectations I placed on myself and these brief two years at UC Berkeley, the pressure they created to make this time more than it ever needed to be, only took away from the satisfaction derived from all the significant little moments.

I’ve learned a lot during my unconventional time at UC Berkeley, much of which I’ve likely already begun to forget. But if there’s one thing this school has taught me that I’m sure will last me forever, it’s this: Like college, life is brief. The universe around us cares not for our expectations or little plans and designs for the future. That being the case, why take something as fleeting as time so seriously? 

I came here two years ago, having put a lot of stock into what I’d gain from my time at UC Berkeley. I’d been told over and over that it would be “the best years” of my life. But now I’m not so sure my experience here consists of years at all. It’s more like a disorganized mosaic of feelings. The satisfaction of publishing an article in The Daily Californian for the first time, the fulfillment of learning something new, the trepidation of walking into a high-stakes exam and the heady ecstasy of walking out of one. 

To be frank, my time at UC Berkeley pretty much sucked overall. There was a pandemic happening, after all. But 10 years from now when I look back on my college experience, it won’t be the two-year stretch of time that I remember. It will be the people, the feelings, the scattered little moments that made the harrowing period of history in which they took place seem so distant. When I think of the abstract idea of “my college years” in aggregate, I find that there’s not much to say. But when I focus on the fragments — freedom cookies at an impromptu dining hall takeover, boisterous newsdesk philosophizing and the many tear-filled staff meetings at the end of a hard semester — it reminds me that life isn’t composed of years at all. It consists of moments and of feelings. 

With that in mind as I watch the clock run out on my time at UC Berkeley, I think a new promise to myself is in order: Don’t take the years so seriously — it is the moments that truly count. 

Thank you to the Daily Cal, the source of every single one of my memorable fragments at UC Berkeley. Thank you to my colleagues, who led by example and astounded me with their incredible capacity to do great work in the face of disaster. Thank you to my spectacular editors, who kept us all glued together even when we were far apart and made room for us to grow as reporters. And thank you to the news desk for being home forever. I cherish you all. 

So long, Berkeley.

Jacob Souza joined The Daily Californian in fall 2019 as a news reporter and was the lead city government beat reporter from spring 2020 to spring 2021. He is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in political science.

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