My high school graduation lasted a little over an hour. The perfect amount of time for a Silicon Valley millennial to laud our accomplishments and for 74 heads covered in glittery caps to waltz across the stage.
After the ceremony was complete, I drove an overstuffed car of friends out of the driveway and never looked back. My little oasis in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the Bay Area was now in my rearview mirror.
In three short months, I would be hauling a trunk load of my new life up the 880 to Berkeley. I would watch as my class morphed from 74 elderly seniors into thousands of baby freshmen, timidly making their way down Durant Avenue in hopes of making a friend in the Yogurt Park line.
Summer days came and went. Celebratory Martinelli’s toasts were shoved behind tearful goodbyes and planes slowly carted my best friends across the country.
On Aug. 14, 2021, it was finally my turn.
After scrambling through COVID test and cart-check lines, I was settled into my new home: an eighth-floor dorm room overlooking a sea of blue and gold hoodies trying to find their way.
As terms like “pregame” and “mob” were thrown around the hallways, I sat alone in my room watching the same sea of people make their way towards Greek row excitedly.
Somehow in the span of half a day, it felt like everyone had found their place in this new world.
Everyone except me.
The next week followed this bleak pattern. I would halfheartedly attend orientation events and spend evenings letting the squeaky showers tune out my sobs.
When all of the tears had evidently left my body, I started noticing little signs of familiarity pop up around campus. Tables of clubs recruiting became my saving grace. Flyers for choir, debate and other various groups started flooding my pockets and pulling me out of my musty dorm room.
As I began dipping my toe into another side of college, I figured out the key to my college experience. All I had to do was whittle down the environment into smaller pieces of a larger puzzle.
I had been so used to the tight-knit community that my microcosmic high school provided, that I felt an overwhelming sense of fear when stepping into a place that could be its own zip code.
Berkeley slowly shrank into small pockets of home. The stained steps outside of the student union, the white brick and brown shingled house on Warring Street, and the cold brewed coffee of Cafe Strada represented communities that culminated my college experience.
I took pride in the organizations I joined and constantly looked for new opportunities to get involved. Weekdays were spent clocking into shifts between classes and weekends were spent scooping ice cream for my sorority’s philanthropy events.
The wheels of my well-oiled college machine began to turn, and suddenly I rounded the corner to finals week of my freshman year.
As I packed and headed back down the peninsula, both my car and heart felt a little more full. Staff shirts and various club lanyards shoved between moving boxes had become my own personal metrics for belonging.
I spent June and July itching to return to campus and reunite with new friends who had become family. August arrived quickly and excitement was replaced with the familiar jitters from freshman year that still swam through my stomach.
I pulled up a document pinned in my sorority’s Slack channel and signed up for a move-in slot, and my empty trunk was hastily filled once again to commence my sophomore year. My mom bid me a significantly less tearful goodbye and I queued up a playful mix of Dr. Dog and The 1975 to send me up north.
It is Aug. 14, 2022, and it’s finally my turn again.
I am currently sitting on a new bed, listening to the familiar bass beats of fraternities gearing up for orientation week parties. I smile softly as I imagine inaugural dorm pregame events popping up in various newly decorated dorm rooms. Out of my window, I see clusters of freshman crowd sidewalk corners and discuss where they will be mobbing tonight.
Missing from that group is a shy freshman much like myself. Waiting for a colorful flyer to be shoved in their face on Sproul Plaza and save the day.