I grew up in a town known for its orange trees, but I don’t like oranges.
It’s ironic, I know, and something I’ve parsed over since I drove away from familiar streets that I have known all my life. That evening, a blur of orange and green and white fluttered outside of my car window as tears streamed down my face and the Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home” hummed in my ears. I knew that I was facilitating my own suffering and cringed, even in the moment, at the way in which I was aestheticizing my farewell to my hometown.
I’ve never particularly liked oranges. I’ve never really enjoyed fruits or vegetables, for that matter. I’ve always ordered the same dishes at the same restaurants. I’ve always enjoyed the same movie franchises and liked the way my hair looked when it was combed a certain way. I’ve taken dance classes since I could talk and I always carry a book and essential oils in my bag and I always touch the left side of my hair when I feel nervous.
And I never pictured myself attending UC Berkeley. I was certain that I would go to another university, somewhere closer or smaller. It wasn’t because I didn’t think that UC Berkeley was extraordinary, but because it wasn’t part of my plan. I didn’t feel like I would belong somewhere I had only visited once before. The city wasn’t what I had known my whole life. It wasn’t a town of orange trees; it was somewhere else.
I don’t like oranges. But I still feel a certain affinity toward them. A few weeks ago in my apartment with its moldy windows and three-day-old cake in the fridge and piles of Joan Didion books teetering on the coffee table, I came across a poem: Wendy Cope’s “The Orange.” It emerged on my TikTok and, though I had read it once before, it felt more personal in my final weeks living in Berkeley.
I’m days away from graduation and I cannot seem to process what I’ve experienced here. I turned 18 a few weeks after the start of my freshman year, and now I am 21. I vaguely remember my emotional state in August of 2019: anxiety from auditioning for dance teams, making friends on my floor, applying to write for this paper and living on my own for the first time. But what I seem to grasp more solidly are the moments that once struck me as insignificant: brushing my teeth in a communal bathroom with my best friends, running home through an unexpected onslaught of rain and lugging a tote bag full of library books to my favorite cafe.
I remember returning to my hometown in 2020 after the onset of the pandemic and making whipped coffee with my sister and reading more books in two months than I had in the previous year. I remember returning to UC Berkeley in 2021 and hugging my best friends in person and styling each other’s hair and hearing live music for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
“And that orange, it made me so happy,/ as ordinary things often do,” Cope’s poem reads. I don’t like the taste of oranges. But I revel in their simplicity. I grew up surrounded by oranges, and I know what it means to find sanctity and contentment in the mundane.
My time at UC Berkeley has been a collection of miniscule moments memorialized in my mind like artifacts in a museum. What I have experienced certainly has not been banal; yet, my mind is enraptured by the beauty of the blanks between events that have altered the course of my life.
I cannot tell you what I was thinking when I interviewed a movie star or the details of my experience at a music festival or how I managed to write a 58-page thesis. But I can tell you which Keurig pods my roommate uses every morning and I can show you which ice cream toppings she likes. I can tell you about the time my other roommate and I slipped doing pirouettes in dance rehearsal and the times she baked banana bread to quell our anxiety. I can tell you what kind of ice is used at my favorite cafe and the places where I read on campus and which washing machine actually works in our apartment complex.
“Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park./ This is peace and contentment. It’s new.”
The things I will miss about UC Berkeley are not what I expected.
It’s my final dance performance, yet I don’t revel in the bright stage lights or the rose petals trailing my toes. I know I will miss the smell of expired foundation and hairspray backstage and ache for the feeling of my calloused feet making contact with peeling marley. It’s my final day of undergrad and I don’t feel at ease. I’m grieving my walk to Wheeler Hall — a piece of my day that I never used to pay attention to — anticipating the feeling of leaving behind the building where I spent the majority of my academic career.
I never expected to care about the details of the life I built at UC Berkeley, but in my final weeks here, I relish in the attributes of my experience that I once disregarded. Though my time in Berkeley is certainly defined by monumental moments that have changed the trajectory of my life, I have found the most happiness in the ordinary things. I may have left behind a land of oranges, but I have rediscovered the splendor of their simplicity elsewhere.
So, to Berkeley, and to the friends I have made here: In the words of Cope, “I love you. I’m glad I exist.”
Sarah Runyan joined The Daily Californian in fall 2019 as an arts & entertainment reporter. She worked as a television beat reporter and a literature beat reporter before becoming a deputy arts & entertainment editor in spring 2022 and the head arts & entertainment editor in fall 2022. She is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English and Media Studies.