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My dream school

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JUNE 30, 2023

Three rejection letters, two denied appeals later, I never matriculated into my dream university. 

I couldn’t do it. My dream school didn’t accept my applications as a first-year student, second-year transfer, nor as a third-year transfer. No safety school comforted enough. I cared little about other target schools. No reach school was better in view. 

“Maybe graduate school is an option,” my professors once reassured me. Graduate programs hadn’t crossed my mind as an eager freshman desperately looking to join the community at my dream institution. There were no plans or desire for a degree beyond a bachelor’s. 

I remained optimistic for an acceptance, manifesting an epiphany that never came. Matriculation at my dream school meant I could take my success and truly “live in the moment.” 

While I hadn’t achieved my dream school just yet, UC Berkeley offered me an opportunity to heal. 

Nearly a year ago, I accepted an offer to UC Berkeley. I was unsure of my decision, but the moment led me to believe in expecting the unexpected. My transfer journey has been anything short of easy, but it has been incredibly rewarding. While it was difficult adjusting to a new school, I think this coming-of-age experience was the best part of any dream I could ask for. 

My decision to attend UC Berkeley easily checked off the boxes of what I thought I wanted. Random roommate? Check. School spirit: Oski the Bear roams Sather Lane? Check. Division I sports teams? Check. Strong academic rigor? Check. 

However, it occurred to me that things would be different. While I once dreamt of having a college experience during the pandemic, living in the present and not in just my dreams mattered more than ever. 

I simply found no other campus more alluring to spend my undergraduate years. I had one choice I wanted, and it was a choice I could never have. Nonetheless, it was going to be the best four years of my life, right? 

If college is a rite of passage, my dream school had everything I could have wanted: residential life, campus culture, school traditions and a location within the City of Angels, which ultimately still is my city of dreams. 

Reminded of my addiction to “College Dorm Room Tours” and “What To/Not To Bring to College” videos from the seventh grade, I always envisioned having a traditional college experience. I imagined embarking on an immediate journey in leaving my family, living with a roommate that wasn’t my brother, connecting with a larger community through school spirit and returning home periodically. In retrospect, my hopes and academic prospects echoed in the imagination and idealization of what it would be like to walk through its communication school’s halls and form dynamic study groups and formidable friendships. 

I used to imagine colorfully, sometimes dramatically. I fantasized about every possible experience of a life that could have existed. I dreamt of a single university I thought answered all my questions and responded to every moment I crossed my fingers for. Perhaps this life existed in a different universe, but I finally succumbed to the pressing phrase “it wasn’t meant to be.”

What I once imagined in a college experience as pieces of a puzzle, I was now putting together as other pieces of a new dream coming to fruition. Between walking through Sather Lane, admiring the Golden Gate Bridge from the Campanile and dreading every sweaty moment uphill toward Stanley Hall, my dream school could never be replaced, but my present moments made it clear — for the time being, this is where I’m supposed to be. 

My interest in pursuing subjects beyond communications and media led me to add political science as a second major and perhaps commit to a pre-law track. Beyond Sather Gate, I’ve pined for the eclectic city of Berkeley to be my campus and community. I have discovered, networked and felt most driven to subsist to fears outside my comfort. I can’t wait to cultivate the dreams that have connected me to a school I had no expectations of. 

My experiences have felt real. They’ve become tangible. What was once part of my vivid imagination finally became my reality. 

I’ve woken up. 

Contact Deric Lai at 


JUNE 30, 2023