In the first week of Golden Bear Orientation, my orientation leader asked our cohort to draft a letter for our future selves to read upon graduation. The exercise was all too familiar: I did the exact same thing in high school. Be like Walter Mitty, I vaguely remember writing. Stop dreaming and start living. To my knowledge, I felt like I had accomplished what I had set out then. Not only did I end up at my dream school, but I got to live out some strange experiences thanks to summer programs such as backpacking through the Pasayten Wilderness for a month and researching the water crisis in India for two weeks, among other things. And so, in 2017, I wrote something pretty similar but also stressed that I must not lose what I have going on already: a yearlong relationship, my infatuation with cartoons and my unyielding tenacity that got me to where I was.
My first semester at UC Berkeley was probably my most ambitious of all. Within a month, I joined a dance team, my resident hall association and The Daily Californian. Courses such as English 45C and African American Studies 5A set the stage for my bouts of existentialism and search for self-expression. I couldn’t help but let myself feel the pleasures of living wildly and carefree. It was something I felt I deserved after four years of long homework nights, club meetings and family hardships.
However, I suddenly found myself at the end of a new beginning. My brother went missing before the start of my spring semester. Then, even after finding him days later in my hometown and navigating the aftermath, I went through a devastating breakup. Reality hit hard. Going through campus felt like a joke, and all I could do was sluggishly tread through Euclid Walk, Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole blaring through my blue Beats headphones, dreading every step uphill back to my dorm.
And to think all of my struggles wouldn’t stop there. I would lose my uncle, great-grandmother and my father in the following three years. COVID-19 also happened. I failed many classes and felt depleted of any source of motivation. Emotionally, I was bouncing in between reminiscing on my work ethic and perseverance in high school and juggling familial expectations of aspiring for a successful, high-paying professional career. I felt frustrated yet guilty for where I ended up mentally.
I really wish I could say something along the lines of how my time in college reflected me in my “prime” or something like that. But I spent a lot of time sulking, thinking about what went wrong. For most of my life, I had no choice but to quickly adapt amid a drastic life-changing circumstance. Dodging fear, avoiding uncertainty and camouflaging among the crowd were reliable ways of coping with past tragedies at home. After all, I am no stranger to misfortune. The despair felt inescapable this time around, though, because it seemed like no matter how much I attempted to move past it all, everything just came back.
What I failed to realize was that I was scared of accepting what has already happened. I did fail some classes. I did lose certain relationships. I might have misplaced my orientation letter, but it wouldn’t surprise me that deep down, I’ve been subconsciously haunted by the inked promises I had initially laid out for myself. Perhaps I went about this college thing the wrong way.
A month ago, I was at my friend’s apartment, making music with some other friends. It had been a long session. Nine straight hours, in fact, but nothing too terrible. I drank a few too many Bud Light Seltzers and thought it would be best to work on one more beat before we all left. The result was unbearable: a cheap, muddy synth grating against some half-baked Bay Area-inspired drum sequencing. My friends wanted it all to end. But, for some reason, I didn’t. I need to keep going, I thought. When my friend suggested that he should make the beats instead, I jokingly told everyone, “Why stop now? We already here.” And to their dismay and my surprise, they persisted. It never really hit me until this very moment how profound that drunkenly witty statement was. Behind it, I see the memories I can choose to make. The myriad of friends I’ve met in the last four years that I can happily spend my time with. The exhale I can let out as I work toward releasing years of emotional baggage.
Now, in my final days at Berkeley, I find myself listlessly pacing through campus: phone in hand, AirPods in, once again scrambling to search for any untrodden walkways I’ve missed out on. Fear of missing out kicks in like usual. Why didn’t I try hard enough? Why didn’t I take advantage of every opportunity this campus has to provide? I could’ve done so much better. But, alas, we are already here.
MJ Harris was a spring 2021 deputy multimedia editor. He joined The Daily Californian in fall 2017 as a music/video/podcast producer. He is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in African American studies.