Meredith Corda: The worker and the queen

Photo of Meredith Corda
Theo Wyss-Flamm/Senior Staff

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Meredith Corda has three tattoos.

The first she got, the one she yearned for from the age of 14, is of a bee. The bee rests on her right wrist, its wings spread to span the length of her palm.

It isn’t the only manifestation of Corda’s affinity for the black-and-yellow insects: She’s dedicated a song to them, as well as an Instagram highlight reel. Since elementary school, she’s interacted more closely with them than most are willing to.

“The bee thing has been very present in my life for as long as I can remember,” Corda said. “I was obsessed with them. Starting in third grade, I used to pick up bees with my bare hands. I’m not kidding, I would literally pick up bees like this,” Corda said as she clasped her hands together, “and walk around to kids on the playground and scare them with the bees.”

Rest assured, bees hold a special place in Corda’s heart beyond their potential for preteen harassment.

“I also just love bees, and I was very protective of them,” Corda said. “A lot of kids at my elementary school hated them and were killing them. One day I came to school with a big sign that said ‘Save the bees’ and I started marching around. I did sort of a protest, and a bunch of kids started following me. It was one of those formative childhood memories.”

W
hile Corda’s love for bees remains, today she leads her peers in a different domain: A fifth-year on Cal’s cross country and track teams, Corda was the Bears’ second finisher at the 2021 Pac-12 Cross Country Championships and their third to cross the line at the NCAA West Region Cross Country Championships. Though the cross country squad saw many members of the team graduate or decline to continue amid the pandemic, Corda stayed put — and the cross country program is all the better for it.

While her scoring contributions have been particularly valuable this fall, Corda brings other qualities to the team that boost the group in equally important, if unquantifiable, ways. Annie Boos, her best friend and former teammate, commented on the levity that Corda provides.

“She definitely keeps the positive energy very high,” Boos said. “She’s always the one that puts everything in perspective. If we’re all stressed out before a workout or anything, she’s the one making a goofy face or doing something funny to make us all laugh. When we start running, she’s serious, she’ll put everything into it, but she reminds the team that it’s not a huge deal at the end of the day and to just enjoy it.”

In a sport as grueling as endurance running, having such a teammate is invaluable.

It’s a role that Corda has grown into — not one she has always been capable of filling; today, Corda is a rock for a team that has seen heavy turnover in recent history. But during her freshman year, she struggled to remain positive.

I
n her first months at Cal, Corda endured a turbulent adjustment to college while grappling with her ADHD.

“During high school, I was kept very contained, and I was kept extremely busy,” Corda said. “My whole day was so structured, and as a person with ADHD, that’s something that I just needed. I act like I hate structure and routine, but I literally cannot function without them. Having to self-implement that in college was extremely difficult for me.”

The comparative lack of structure that college life presented brought forth unprecedented challenges for Corda. At the same time, she was becoming increasingly resentful of the medication she took to mitigate her symptoms. While the severity of these issues may not be readily apparent to those without much knowledge of ADHD, Corda is transparent about the tribulations she faces.

“A lot of people just think you’re distracted easily, and you can’t focus or whatever, but it’s way more involved in every aspect of your life,” Corda said. “Because what it really means is that you’re dopamine deprived. Your brain constantly craves stimulation because it’s deprived, so you don’t do things unless they’re a challenge or they’re novel. It’s not because you’re lazy. A lot of people — even I — thought of myself as lazy, but it’s just really because if an activity or task wasn’t incredibly urgent, I physically couldn’t do it.”

This struggle threatened to cost Corda her spot at UC Berkeley, as it landed her on academic probation. And, as if she wasn’t going through enough already, Corda was injured and unable to run for much of the year.

But now, as she prepares to graduate in the spring, Corda sports a “Fiat Lux” tattoo on her left bicep. It’s a testament to an incredible turnaround she’s staged at Cal –– a turnaround punctuated by her placement on the 2021 Pac-12 Spring Academic Honor Roll.

Photo of Meredith Corda

While Corda, a German and Rhetoric double major, would humbly suggest that such an accomplishment is attributable to the “easier” nature of some upper division courses, Boos tells another story.

“Looking back on freshman year, I feel pretty bad because Meredith is one of the brightest girls I know,” Boos said. “She cared a lot about her academics, but it really was her ADHD. She was battling with a feeling that she shouldn’t take her meds because she thought she should do things on her own without them. I saw a shift in her during the summer going into sophomore year where she acknowledged the severity of her ADHD, and she wasn’t guilty about it.”

This shift is indicative of a broader journey of self-acceptance that Corda has embarked on — and found success in — over recent years. It’s a journey that is reflective of yet another meaning behind her bee ink.

“A bee is a really interesting symbol,” Corda said. “Because in one sense, there’s the idea of the worker bee. Just being a diligent worker, being part of a community, being in this collective experience of life. But then there’s also the queen bee, which to me represents having confidence in yourself. It’s symbolic of the dualism of the self, which mirrors the duality of bees.”

It’s a dualism that Corda herself embodies.

Corda’s inner worker bee seems to have always been present. From the time she got into competitive swim at age 4, she’s been an endurance athlete. In high school, she juggled schoolwork, two choir classes, an a cappella group and running competitively for Monte Vista. And now, at Berkeley, she’s earning two majors while serving as a leader for campus’s cross country and track programs.

Assuming the role of the worker bee seems to come naturally to Corda — personifying the queen bee has always required more effort.

Recently, though, she’s turned a corner: Today, Corda practices positive self-talk in the lead-up to races. She approaches her coursework with poise. And perhaps the best evidence of Corda’s ever-growing confidence comes from her outlook on making music.

O
ver the past several months, Corda has been uploading songs and music videos to Spotify and YouTube under the stage name “Merkorda.” From the witty lyrics and zany music video shenanigans of “Berkeley Girl” to heartfelt, sentimental ballads such as “Chocolate” and “I Quit,” Corda’s personality is on full display in her artistic pursuits — as are her knacks for singing, guitar playing and poignant songwriting.

Corda first embraced her musical side at a young age, after some hesitancy.

“I decided to do chorus in middle school, mostly this weird challenge to myself, because I honestly thought singing was really cringy,” Corda said. “But I also knew that I liked it in this weird way. So I was like, ‘I guess I’ll sign up for this.’ And then I loved it, and I did it all through high school.”

In high school, music was prevalent in her schedule. But when she arrived at college, Corda was convinced that she didn’t have time to cultivate her talent. For roughly the first year and a half that she was at UC Berkeley, she held onto the idea that scholastic and athletic pursuits left inadequate time for practicing music. But fortunately, she’s since proven herself wrong and made a foray into songwriting.

“The songwriting started maybe a year and a half ago,” Corda said. “I realized, ‘OK, I’ve been writing poetry for a long time, and I’ve liked singing and learning songs for a long time. Why not combine them?’ That was something that I just didn’t think I had the capability of doing. I didn’t want to risk writing a song that was bad.”

The final push came when a friend challenged her to write the most tragic song she could think up. Corda responded by penning her first track, “Love Deprived” — a song that fit the bill, as the title suggests. And so it began.

“It got the ball rolling, because I wrote ‘Love Deprived’ with my friend in an hour,” Corda said. “And then I realized that it was so fun for me. And it hasn’t ended, I’ve just kept going with it.”

These days, Corda is also known to break out her guitar and perform both original songs and covers for friends. It’s not something she would have done just a few short years ago.

“Freshman year, she wouldn’t even sing in front of me, and she was so good,” Boos said. “But now, she’s releasing songs and posting singing videos to Instagram. It’s something that she really loves. I’m very proud that she’s embracing who she is, and she’s not afraid to show it anymore.”

Photo of Meredith Corda

W
ith each passing day, Corda bears a greater resemblance to her conception of the queen bee. The transformation is not an easy process, but then again, when has Corda ever gravitated toward the path of least resistance?

This is the same girl who stood up to her elementary school classmates in defense of the bees she has such reverence for; the same girl who came to UC Berkeley in search of a challenge, then went from academic probation to the Pac-12 Academic Honor Roll; and the same girl who remained committed to Cal’s cross country and track programs. Even amid a global pandemic, Corda has returned for a fifth year to lead the pack and serve as a source of positivity so that those around her might also find their inner queen bee.

Corda knows as well as anybody that people are often struggling more than they let on. It’s a notion reflected by her third tattoo, which rests by her outer left ankle and reads “P.S.”

“To me, in a broad way, it means that there’s always more to the story. Or there’s always more to what somebody tells you,” Corda said. “You have to assume with everyone that there’s something that they might not be sharing. It’s a good way to go about life.”

It’s a concept that Corda understands well, given what she’s had to overcome and the internal battles she’s waged through the years. As the queen emerges, the worker reminds her what it means to be immersed in the collective experience of life, a dialogue that cultivates sympathy. As Corda continues to grow and find self-acceptance, she’ll be helping others do the same through her gifts of kindness, determination and song.

Few can personify both the worker and the queen. Even fewer can do it as gracefully as Meredith Corda.

Ethan Moutes covers cross country. Contact him at [email protected].