Who would win: the fountain at Sproul Plaza or the one in front of Berkeley Law?
My answer to this question varies from one day to the next, but I usually settle with hoping I don’t drown in either.
How does it feel to attend college right where I can see possibilities for my future? Now that question requires a little more thought.
I figured out the career I wanted to pursue not all at once, but during different pit stops throughout my life. In elementary school, the occasional book fairs were my bread and butter — the bread being the thick books I sought out, and the butter being the fancy pens I would use to annotate before I even knew how to annotate. Middle school was the first time I had attended anything like a career fair, but I somehow found myself curious about the attorneys and why they seemed so serious. By high school, I came full circle and once more gravitated toward big books, but also grappled with bigger questions as to how the same laws yielded different outcomes for people who don’t look the same.
As an undergraduate student now attending school where both my majors are ranked number one, all the gravitation toward heavy texts and complicated inquiry adds up. Packed into this equation is the obligation I feel to live up to the rankings, but more than anything, to the legacy of those who have made it possible for me to know what career I want to pursue and actively go for it.
My grandparents didn’t go to college. Like many immigrants seeking the promise that the United States holds a life worth chasing, they came to this country. Their search for work came from the ground up, not from a career fair that made getting a job in this economy seem close in reach. From them, I know street smarts, my culture and familia — none of which can be taught in a lecture or two.
They gave me my parents, who always fostered support for the careers I entertained no matter how outlandish they seemed. The common denominator — whether I thought I wanted to be a teacher or joked about being a professional sleeper — was that I promised to work hard no matter what. Once I knew what I wanted to pursue, I knew exactly where I wanted to go to do so, the same place my mother attended: UC Berkeley.
My elementary-school annotations must have paid off, since I made it here and can now rightfully shout “Go Bears!” every so often. But despite growing up with the strongest examples of work ethic I know, I have had to adapt to the notion of both embracing and fighting against the UC Berkeley mentality of work.
More than once, I’ve been told when taking exams for courses to only put down my student identification number and not my name. Often the first information someone asks about you in an interview for research positions is your GPA. Even for law school, the LSAT will largely determine what institution will foster the legal career I intend to pursue. In this game of numbers, one thing remains clear: You have to stay grounded in why you are here.
Being a student at UC Berkeley has taught me exactly that. I’m here because I see what’s wrong with power dynamics in our society. I’m here because those who came before me taught me not to simply acquiesce when facing those injustices. I’m here because the younger me couldn’t simply accept what was on the page — she had to leave her mark with a pen she got from an elementary school book fair.
Majoring in English and sociology here has allowed me to find the happy medium between my inherent draw to books and incessant need to question how society operates. Campus culture adds even more social consciousness to my studies, given that activism takes on a prominent voice of its own at UC Berkeley. I’m therefore inclined not to simply walk away from what’s difficult to solve, but rather lead with a head on my shoulders and intention in my step.
That’s also why I’m not intimidated by seeing the fountain in front of Berkeley Law and admitting it’s more complex than the Sproul fixture. If anything, I’m reminded of the work I’ll keep doing to find myself at a law school fulfilling my career ambitions. It helps to also have found the person behind the work, which is exactly how I want to see and support clients as an attorney.