Open waters

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MAY 13, 2022

I’m crying on Sproul Plaza, and I don’t care who sees. I wasn’t supposed to end up at UC Berkeley. I had a plan — one cooked up since middle school — to go to a small liberal arts college, and my plan worked.

I would walk under a beautiful collegiate arch, explore a city I loved and dress in my favorite shade of blue, repping a college with a cute little dancing bear mascot. It was everything I wanted. I was bound for Barnard College — until my parents and I saw the in-state price of tuition for UC Berkeley.

I don’t like change. I don’t like not knowing exactly what’s going to happen next.

College had always been that “X” on my treasure map, one which was creased and torn from years of clutching it so hard. But now, I’ve followed that little dotted line on my painstakingly charted map, and I’ll reach the end with my glittering diploma on Saturday.

The thought of graduating with no more than a summer internship lined up, however, makes me want to cry, scream and throw up. I stand on the bow of my ship, hair whipping and tears streaming down my face from the news of postgrad plans I catch wind of.

The only thing keeping me from spiraling and steering my ship into an anxiety whirlpool is knowing that veering off course and into unknown territory is usually the start of a very interesting, exciting journey.

Changing my plans between attending one university versus another may be trivial, but it felt like crash landing. My middle school class totaled eight students, and my high school class only had 129 other students.

I was used to learning in classrooms that felt like a community — where I knew that if I wanted to, I could make my voice heard. UC Berkeley was a frightening wave of change that I had been plunged into. A void in which even if I shouted, I feared my voice would be drowned out.

It took years to get over this change of plans. When I didn’t make friends until half-way through my first semester and when I walked into a classroom of more than 400 students feeling smaller and more invisible than before, I thought: If I had just stuck to my original plan, everything would be better.

And maybe that’s true. Maybe there is an alternate universe in which my path veered toward the East Coast instead of the West Coast. Is that version of me happier? A better student?

Then again, what if I hadn’t spontaneously marched into a bar after my original Friday night plans had been derailed? What if I hadn’t fallen out of those plans and in love with the person I met that night?

What if I hadn’t met friends who transformed that terrifying wave of change into one that I could surf through laughing and drunk dancing?

As I procrastinate writing my final paper, I can’t help but find peace in the map’s wrinkle which led me here. Inside the fold, I find a different yet equally impressive arch in the center of a city that I’ve fallen in love with over and over again.

I wear a slightly different shade of blue to proudly show my school spirit for a college with a different, yet admittedly much creepier, bear mascot. The wave I thought would drown my voice instead drew me to a newspaper that allowed me to speak to an even larger audience than I could have ever imagined would be interested in what I have to say.

Maybe the universe had a different plan than the one I had diligently diagrammed. Maybe there is no grand plan. Or maybe the plans worth making are more hazy than the ones I never let go.

Perhaps they don’t include longitudes and latitudes, but landmarks which take the form of the type of people I want to meet and range of emotions I want the opportunity to feel.

These musings are my life jacket as I dive off the map to college and into the uncharted sea, estranged from academic validation and clear-cut guides. And when I’m ready, perhaps months or years after graduation, I will unclasp my jacket. I hope to learn how to swim with the current instead of trying to control which way it pushes me.

Contact Emily Hom at 


MAY 13, 2022