Ditch the outline

I never thought I would be happy to say I was rejected by my dream school.

That painful dismissal put UC Berkeley near the top of my list of future homes, but my anxious high school senior self still had plenty of background research to do. I attempted to craft an outline of how my four years in college might play out before ever stepping through Sather Gate, while constantly fighting back fears that I would drown in an over-competitive and cutthroat environment.

Although I was nervous up until the deadline that Berkeley would not be the place for me, I decided that stepping outside of my comfort zone might serve me well. I would learn to pen my own story.

With the pre-writing process behind me, it was time to tackle my introduction.

Freshman year was a dream. My first time away from home, I was both excited by my newfound freedom and scared by the limitless possibilities it presented. I joined a competitive dance team, meeting the brothers I had never had, who helped cure me of my semester-long homesickness. We forged memories that will travel with me far beyond Berkeley. Everything hit all at once and so quickly: the stress of classes and adulting, the endless opportunities to have spontaneous fun with friends and the reassurance I felt knowing that I still had three years left to figure it all out.

Returning to Berkeley for sophomore year with a sense of belonging, I was ready to dive into the heart of my essay.

My familiarity with the streets of Southside gave me a sense of agency — it was time to explore. I joined The Daily Californian to pursue my passion for sports, but in those bustling cubicles on 2483 Hearst Ave., I found my purpose. I moved into my first apartment and started to travel across the Bay to San Francisco, finding my stride with every new risk I took.

Everything was going according to plan — until it wasn’t. The COVID-19 pandemic ripped my outline to shreds.

Suddenly, I began to question everything as I took final exams from my childhood bedroom. It was hard not to feel like I had been robbed of my golden college years and my independence. I wasn’t growing anymore, I was plateauing. Perhaps even regressing — back into that anxious high school senior who had now been rejected yet again.

As it became increasingly clear that my junior year would consist of remote learning, it became increasingly clear that I had to return to Berkeley. Harry had Hogwarts and I had Berkeley. It was my sanctuary — a place of optimism and progress even when the rest of the world had been put on pause.

Navigating a college experience vastly different from the one I always envisioned — and had lived in for almost two years — I truly had to start thinking for myself. As students, we often joke about UC Berkeley throwing us into the deep end, and junior year helped me realize that I could stay afloat even without my outline propping me up.

Amid so much uncertainty, I started to improvise. I took on more responsibility at the Daily Cal and became increasingly cognizant about what I wanted to do after graduation. I rekindled friendships lost during quarantine and established new ones. I found love. Being someone so averse to change, I learned that adapting to the unexpected was good for me because it forced me to mature.

It was with this mindset that I found myself heading into senior year, my conclusion. The stress of job searches and entering the real world loomed overhead, but I tried to savor the fleeting moments of college life. I rejoined my dance team, explored the greater Bay Area and came to terms with the end being near. I do things that I truly enjoy now not because they are on some arbitrary outline but because I want to do them.

I ditched the outline.

Senior year has certainly been bittersweet, but I can look back on it with pride because I know that I am a different person now than I was four years ago. I’ve learned to live in the moment rather than by a script, and I did that with the help of all the people who made my college experience what it was. You know who you are.

And that growth certainly would not have happened if I had gone to my dream school.

I learned a lot of lessons at UC Berkeley, but the most important one came outside the classroom: Life is unexpected, and you can’t plan for it. The fact that I feel so attached to the memories I’ve made here — memories that weren’t part of my outline — means that something special occurred over the past four years.

This certainly wasn’t the college experience that I always imagined, and I never thought that I would be happy to say that.

Kabir Rao was the sports editor in spring 2021. He joined The Daily Californian in fall 2019 as the men’s tennis beat reporter and worked as a deputy sports editor in fall 2020, a men’s basketball beat reporter in spring 2021, a football beat reporter in fall 2021, and a columnist in spring 2022. He is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in media studies and a minor in journalism.