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Breaking up with Berkeley

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APRIL 21, 2023

One of my friends from back home was recently telling me about her breakup. At first, I was surprised to hear this since I’d gotten the impression they were doing really well together. But she explained to me that, although nothing was currently seriously wrong in the relationship, she could tell that both she and her (now ex-)boyfriend were stagnating in their own personal growth, and she had a feeling that if she stayed, things would begin to go downhill. As she put it, “the writing was on the wall,” and so she broke up with him, preserving their good times together before they could sour and bringing this segment of her life to its natural conclusion.

As she was telling me the story of the breakup, I had a sudden realization — everything my friend was describing to me perfectly matched my feelings about graduating early and leaving Berkeley.

My decision to graduate early was first born in fall 2021, when I realized that I was on track to complete all the requirements for my English major by spring 2023, a full year ahead of my expected graduation time of spring 2024. As an out-of-state student, anything that would help me curb tuition costs automatically presented a convincing offer. However, I heavily contemplated staying for a fourth year to double major in something else and possibly enroll in the year-long honors program within the English program.

For me, though, the more tempting reason not to leave early was the fear of not being able to maximize my time doing the things I love with the people I love, in an environment and time in my life that I will never get back. I already lost a year of in-person college due to COVID. 

Was I really willing to give up another year?

The thought of graduating and leaving Berkeley early was undoubtedly scary to me. But as I thought about my dilemma more, I found it harder and harder to justify staying.

Yes, I could double-major in something else and join the English honors program, but I couldn’t find myself interested enough in anything else to consider adding it as a major, and the honors program alone wasn’t enough of an academic incentive for me to stay at Berkeley another year. 

I realized it just didn’t make sense for me to be paying for a whole extra year of out-of-state-tuition and grasping at classes or programs I wasn’t passionate about just to avoid graduating early.

So, I finalized my decision to graduate a year early last spring. But I was still left with the question of what I would do after I graduated. Again, the option of remaining in Berkeley presented itself as an alluring possibility. I would hardly be blamed for wanting to spend another year immersed in Berkeley college life, especially considering that my first year of college was online and I was graduating a year early.

Despite all of this, something inside me still felt uneasy about the idea of staying, though I wasn’t sure specifically why. It wasn’t until I heard my friend explaining her reasons for breaking up with her boyfriend that I was finally able to identify why I felt that way.

My strongest driving factor in choosing to come to Berkeley in the first place was the desire to break away from the constraints of my life back home and immerse myself in an environment that would force me to grow. And I can say now with confidence that I have achieved that. I have found a community of people I feel so inspired by and comfortable with, and I have made friends I know will last a lifetime. I have a better sense of who I am and what I want than I have ever had in my life.

What more would I get out of staying in Berkeley after graduation?

Without any classes to take and the title of “undergraduate student” revoked, many of the perks of studying at Berkeley would become inaccessible to me. And while I certainly could still spend time with friends and be on campus, I fear that I would be left chasing a feeling that has already vanished and stunting my personal growth in my own stubborn refusal to let go.

Unlike a romantic relationship, college is something one enters into fully knowing it will only last a finite amount of time. But just like a romantic relationship, it isn’t healthy to keep chasing after the good after it has become bad, after the natural conclusion of the relationship. The diploma I will receive from Berkeley is the “writing on the wall” — literally, once I frame it and hang it up — for the end of our time together.

I am learning to accept that all of my beautiful moments and memories from my time at Berkeley are fated to remain just that — memories. As much as I may wish to prolong my Berkeley experience, I know deep down my journey here has reached its end. And instead of lingering in a futile attempt to try and chase the feelings I once had, I aim to depart from Berkeley with my head held high, knowing that I ended things at the right time.

Berkeley, I think it’s time we went our separate ways. It was good while it lasted.

Contact James Meyer at 


APRIL 21, 2023