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Eleventy-one days

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JANUARY 26, 2023

In eleventy-one days, me, my closest friends and thousands of others will begin the rituals of graduation. We’ll don a cap and gown and take pictures by Hearst Mining, Doe Library or Sather Gate. We’ll file into the stadium to listen to Carol and her merry band of administrators tell us that commencement actually means the beginning of something.

On the eleventy-first day, the streets will flood with family, friends and champagne. We will cheer and throw our hats, retreat to our own celebrations and pat each other on the back for the four years of work and play finally behind us.

And then, we will leave.

We will wait by the window for a diploma to appear on our childhood doorsteps. We will flock to New York, Los Angeles or London, or back to homes across the world. Some will go on to graduate programs, others will collect signing bonuses.

But when the confetti settle, we will be, firmly, members of the real world, connected only by a shared zip code so many falls and springs ago.

I, for one, don’t know where I’ll be. The roads ahead of me splinter outward like the branches of an aging maple tree.

But I do know that soon, Berkeley will be just another word on my resume, a shimmering, golden time where I learned to live and love and perhaps think for myself. It will be reduced to a series of remember-whens, relived across the table from a classmate, or over a drink with an old friend.

Maybe a smile will cross my face when some new protest reminds me why I’m proud to be a Bear. My time here will slowly fade into an appreciation for blue and gold placed together, my jerseys just costumes for nieces and nephews to run around in.

I will remember the big moments, of course — the Stanford game days and the birthdays and the nights getting home past four. But most of my time is spent doing things I’ve done countless times before, those moments whose shine has been rubbed away by the contours of habit.

I want to remember the button on my washing machine that sounds like the opening of Clair de Lune; the mug I reach for when I need coffee on a lazy weekend morning; the seat in the library that held me through breakdowns and triumphs and long December nights.

I want to hold onto that flutter in my chest when the Raleigh’s bouncer looks at my ID; the anticlimax of bCourses’ digital celebration when I submit a take-home final; the places and things that are most often invisible.

These fleeting moments are all I have to remember the parts of college that will slip away if I don’t go after them with a net.

I’m working to see this time as a victory lap, not a final countdown. This is the finale of the first quarter of my life. It should be full of cymbals and trumpets. It should shine with the brilliance of our brilliance.

Here’s how I’m trying to live for these last eleventy-one days: I will make dinner with my best friends and watch the sun set over the city we love; I’ll cherish the happy frenzy of getting ready to go out, and the quiet comfort of morning debriefs; I’ll soak in the foggy campus mornings when I’m proud I pulled myself out of bed.

There will still be unproductive, giggly study sessions that make stress evaporate. I will still walk through throngs of people and remember, just for a moment, that we’re all here for our own, spectacular reasons.

So to hell with holding back. Ask out that person you’ve been meaning to. Stay out longer than is responsible. Write down resolutions and congratulate yourself for only doing one. Make a schedule and then break it. Explore the beauty and the abundance that this education has to offer.

Live so you can wear that blue and gold stole with pride. Wear it like a battle scar, or a wedding gown — wear it like your mother made it for you by hand. And look around you, while you can. See the people who have been with you on this journey, who have held your hand in the quiet, tearful moments when it all felt like too much.

Recognize that we are doing something difficult and good. We are forging ahead, knowing that in eleventy-one days, we will be in a different place with different people, doing different things differently.

I will keep thinking of it not as four months or as 16 weeks, but as eleventy-one days, because it feels bigger. Longer. It’s a reminder to take it a day at a time, not to chop it into chunks that make time fly even faster.

Graduation is intimidating and when it gets here, we will say it was too fast. But we are not there yet. It’s waiting for us in the wings, in all its glorious, uproarious celebration. We’ll get there soon. But now, we’re here — and what a miraculous place to be.

Contact Luke Stiles at [email protected].

JANUARY 26, 2023