When they said college would fly by, I imagined the speed and gait of a baby bird, halting and clumsy, who, like me, is only just learning how to wield the power of its wings.
Parts of my time at UC Berkeley felt this way, but when I cross the commencement stage next week, I think I’ll feel as though college hurtled to a close, like a peregrine falcon diving for prey.
They say you’ll never be alone in college, that there will always be somebody around to keep you company.
I found this was true a lot of the time but not always, especially during the height of the pandemic, when the only company many of us had was ourselves. But college taught me that alone doesn’t necessarily mean lonely, that being comfortable on your own is an important part of growing up.
They say the memories you make during these four short years will last a lifetime.
My parents, now in their mid-50s, seem to dredge up lucid scenes from their college days with ease. But I’ve never found myself to be particularly good with memories. Perhaps they need time and distance to bloom, and they’ll simply materialize in my middle age, when I’m not so distracted with making more memories here in Berkeley. For now, I depart with some gaps in recollection I’m still trying to color in.
With all but one week of college behind me, it’s easy to fall into regret. It’s tempting to judge my college experience — words so often idealized and commercialized — against all that was promised to me as an incoming student, to see where I fell short, what I could have done differently.
But regret is a dangerous game. That’s something else I learned: not to worry about what lies beyond my control. After enough restless days and nights, you begin to feel comfortable letting go.
As a freshman, I wrote an opinion column for The Daily Californian about growing up — how, for many of us, this time in our lives is a strange liminal space between childhood and adulthood; how parts of college are strangely reminiscent of our earliest days as toddlers; how some of us are privileged as students to dance an unencumbered line between independence and dependence, responsibility and glee, maturity and foolishness.
I wrote many of these words when I’d only just entered UC Berkeley, still figuring out how it all was supposed to work.
Four years later, I think I have the college part down. I’ve settled into a routine, a welcoming familiarity I anticipate every time I drive up University Avenue, returning after a break or a spontaneous visit home. I know my way around the city of Berkeley and our campus; I have a list of favorite places, restaurants and study spots cataloged neatly in my brain; I understand how college classes are structured, which is something I remember panicking about in my first year.
I finally know this place. And so I can’t help but feel as though the end of college is a rather abrupt dislocation from home, not unlike how leaving for UC Berkeley felt four years ago.
This past January, I came to Berkeley one day before most other students had returned from winter break. The air was thick, so dense with fog I could barely see 10 feet ahead in any direction. I was one of the only people wandering about, and I remember feeling then an inexplicable power emanating from our campus — an aura, a sense of shared spirit so strong it was palpable. I felt a rush in my spine.
Now I know this is not how every student experiences campus; UC Berkeley remains awfully exclusive and claustrophobic for many of my peers, and there have been times when I, too, questioned my place and purpose here. But that day in January, a rare moment when I had virtually all of campus to myself, I felt a gravitational pull telling me I belonged.
In a matter of weeks, close friends who have lived not more than a few blocks away since 2018 will be scattered across the country and the globe. I’ll find myself resettled in a new city, having to learn again the shortcuts and hidden gems. I’ll start anew — with the strong foundation I formed here at UC Berkeley, but anew nonetheless.
This time, though, I will have done it before. I’m different today than I was when I first stepped foot into the residence halls, wrangling a cumbersome luggage cart toward an unassuming, bunk-bed-filled room. The people I met and the knowledge I gained here have made me more comfortable in my body and being, more independent in mind and in will, more outgoing and confident, perhaps a few pounds heavier and a few hairs grayer. I’m more sure of myself now, if still unsure where that self will go next.
They say college changes you, usually for the better, and I think they are right about that.