My time at UC Berkeley taught me to love nachos. These cheesy chips were the one item on the taqueria menu that I glanced over every week when my family ordered takeout. And loving them was in the realm of my consciousness but initially out of my realm of possibility.
Much more shocking than the fact that I never expected to love nachos is the fact that I never could have predicted I would attend UC Berkeley.
“The gist of my Berkeley story is that I never wanted to come here.”
I’ve repeated this line countless times to hundreds of visitors visiting from this state, country and world to tour the UC Berkeley campus. It always elicits a chuckle from at least a few people in the crowd, who wonder how the student who’s spent the past 90 minutes extolling the virtues of the number one public university was at one point so decidedly anti-Berkeley. But I know this is not a unique experience. Plenty of my classmates and even fellow campus ambassadors could tell you that they never wanted or expected to be a student at UC Berkeley.
It seems cliché to say that college teaches us to expect the unexpected and embrace the unknown, but I guess the saying is a cliché for a good reason.
I grew up in Oakland just a few miles from UC Berkeley’s campus as the child of two UC Berkeley alumni — so you would think I knew all there was to know about the school. This could not have been further from the truth.
I never took the time to research UC Berkeley because I thought I had to move to the other side of the country to gain the independence I yearned for. I checked the box to apply one minute before submitting my UC application. When it came down to decision time, I reluctantly said yes due to the financial incentive of in-state tuition, but also because of my realization that UC Berkeley had the urban location with a college-town feel and broad range of options for undeclared students that I was looking for in a university.
I never expected to love UC Berkeley in the way I do. And there are many other things that defied my expectations coming here.
I never expected I would leave behind my classical ballet training for other styles of dance. Yet at the end of my first semester, I found myself performing a jazz routine to Demi Lovato’s “Confident” in a sparkly pink tank top on the Zellerbach Hall stage — setting the stage for many more performances in semesters to come.
I never expected I would spend a semester abroad in France. I was set on going to South Africa, until the program involved got canceled at the last minute. Two days later I had pivoted and applied to attend Sciences Po in the small city of Reims. As is typical for students who study abroad to say, it was a decision that I absolutely do not regret and a truly life-changing experience.
I never expected to write for campus’s esteemed newspaper, let alone become the editor of two different departments. My freshman self had an inkling to build upon the limited journalistic experience I had from my high school newspaper. When I stumbled upon The Daily Californian’s table on Sproul Plaza, I also found some of the best learning experiences I could have.
I never expected to become a campus tour guide, but the idea of walking and talking about my experiences sounded surprisingly appealing to me as I searched for a student job. Learning to represent the campus forced me to appreciate what an amazing and unique place I ended up in.
And all these unexpected situations happened alongside my growing love for some tortilla chips covered in cheese.
As I’ve learned from sampling nachos at the plethora of Mexican food establishments near our campus, creating the perfect plate of nachos is a balancing act: You have to add enough toppings to make things interesting, but not so many that the chips at the base fall apart.
There have been times during my college experience when my chips have been purely and utterly overwhelmed.
My extracurricular activities piled up to the point that I went months without a day to sleep in and struggled to find time to do my homework. Even as I write this column, I’m stressing about how I will complete all of my final papers and assignments before crossing the graduation stage. But I’d like to think that just as I have learned which restaurants hit the right ratio of chips to toppings, I’ve also learned how to effectively prioritize and utilize my time.
Nachos taste pretty good when I have a whole plate to myself, so I’ve come to treasure the time I take for myself on early morning runs through the Berkeley hills. But nachos taste undoubtedly better when eaten shoulder to shoulder with friends who are all unspokenly competing to get the best chips. And my favorite memories from the past four years are also the ones spent with others.
They’re the incredulous glances I share with my classmates as we rise in applause for a professor who has just artfully debunked a conception we’ve held our whole lives. They’re the countless hikes I’ve dragged my friends on, including the 20 hours I spent summiting Half Dome in Yosemite with a friend I first met through online classes. They’re the delirious conversations I have with my roommates and neighbors on late-night walks home from dance practices on Lower Sproul.
Nachos were first introduced to me in my junior year. Coming back from a year and a half of online classes, this was the year when I felt that I had found my sense of place and purpose in our large campus community. Since then, sharing nachos has become a time to “gab and goss” and catch up with friends after days, weeks and sometimes even months without seeing each other. Much like my decision to come to UC Berkeley, this tradition resembles the options I had purposefully kept out of my realm of possibility but have since learned to embrace.
And I know tradition and nachos will continue to unite my friends and me long after I leave this campus.
Beatrice Aronson joined The Daily Californian in fall 2019 as a blog writer. She worked as the fall 2020 deputy blog editor before becoming the blog editor in spring 2021 and the special issues editor in fall 2021. She then worked as an arts & entertainment reporter for the 2022-2023 year. She is graduating with bachelor’s degrees in geography and political economy.