Another story for the city

Mug of Maya Akkaraju

The streets of Berkeley are decorated with mysterious, witty stories.

On Walnut Street, by the first Peet’s Coffee, there’s a small, easily overlooked circular medallion in the ground. It tells the tale of a woman who dropped a cup of coffee — “perfect fair-trade Ethiopian blend, with a splash of almond milk and just a hint of cinnamon” — all over this very sidewalk. 

I found this three-sentence story in October 2020. The world had gone online and I was living on Northside with my best friend. We spent our days on Zoom while finding ways to make our frequent Safeway trips more exciting than they deserved to be. 

The next time I found a medallion was on a December walk with a news department friend — Euclid Avenue’s tile recounts a “dreadful” dinner party. I remember that story and the little moments I had during the pandemic. Those outdoor gatherings with friends meant the world, when the flurry of college life had been sent into hibernation.

Since then, I’ve stumbled across six more of these tiles. Every single one brightened my day — it felt like the city had secret lives I was discovering one by one. 

It’s difficult to say goodbye to this story-filled city. I’ve spent a lot of my life focusing on the things I wish I did differently, and I thought at this point I would be fixating on the stones left unturned, the paths I could have embarked on and the days I should have taken that risk or gone a different way. 

But instead, the what-ifs have been overshadowed by how happy I am that the past four years have led me to this point. Yeah, I didn’t need to waste my time in econ classes sophomore year, but how are you supposed to remember you love biology when you’re drowning in organic chemistry?

Despite a year and a half of the monotony of online learning, I have come to adore the world of biology. My forest fungi professor said it best — if you look outside, there are stories everywhere. They’re in the microbes trying to “make a living” in drought-ridden, Californian soil, in the eucalyptus trees that long ago invaded the Bay Area, in the fungal and algal species that live such intertwined lives they’ve formed an entirely separate organism. The stories only get cooler when you think about them from alternate lenses, like the way our social systems have influenced our planet’s life forms.

I didn’t always know I would spend so much time at The Daily Californian, but the excitement of engaging with city and campus issues and the opportunity to interview people making up the fabric of Berkeley were far too magnetic. It was thrilling to get to know the many faces and dramas of Berkeley, and I found myself wanting to learn more and more about the stories I covered. More than anything, the community at the paper drew me in. I’ve never had so many squishes in my life. 

Above all, my favorite stories from this era center on the incredible people here. Over the past four years, I’ve seen myself become much more confident and comfortable with myself, and much of the credit belongs to the people I’m surrounded by. It’s a lucky problem to have, to find people you’re torn up about living more than 10 minutes from. 

There are far too many people who have shaped my story at UC Berkeley to thank them all in one column, but I still want to acknowledge the people who made me feel at home and have molded my past four years.

Thank you to my family — I got to grow up surrounded by some of the most dynamic, energetic people. Anyone who knows me knows I can’t shut up about my siblings and cousins.

Thank you to Unit 3 — some of my strongest friendships were formed over broken laundry machines and malfunctioning elevators.

Thank you to the Wolf Lab — I’m so lucky to have found myself in the most supportive lab I could imagine. I can think of no better environment to grow bacteria in. 

Thank you to The Daily Californian and the newsdesk — there’s no way to describe the gratitude I have for the people I found at the paper. 

When my final semester at UC Berkeley began, I could feel the incoming dread of dispersing from everyone. But the next day, I found a small medallion on the ground — one I must have walked past dozens of times — describing a protest against protesting.

In the jubilant shock of finding another tale after nine months without one, I felt like this was a hopeful sign for the semester. This story, and each one like it, renewed the whimsy and beauty of Berkeley a little more. They remind me that everywhere you look, Berkeley is bursting with stories. With my time on campus coming to a close, I couldn’t be happier to have my own to tell. 

Maya Akkaraju was a deputy news editor in fall 2020. She joined The Daily Californian in Spring 2019 as a general assignment news reporter. She was on the editorial board for four semesters, was a higher education beat reporter for two semesters, and was a senior news reporter for one semester. She is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in molecular environmental biology and a minor in data science.