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Parting thoughts: learning how to catch a flying baton

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MAY 11, 2012

The following is a farewell column from our 2012 Graduation Issue. Read the other farewell columns here.

For those of you have yet to take Marching Band 101, a drum major is the leader of the band, often accompanied by a metal baton and a comically large hat. In my case, being the Cal Band drum major meant that before each football game, I would lead the band onto the field, jump over a saxophone player, bend backwards until my hat touched the grass, strut down the field and end this sequence by tossing my baton high up into the air. Common lore maintains that if the baton is caught, the football team wins; if not, the team loses.

Talk about pressure! Despite my nerves, I was successful in catching eight of nine “high tosses.” But it is the one toss I dropped that I will never forget.

It happened at the very first game of the season. When it came time to make the catch that would decide the fate of the game, I tossed the baton high up into the air and, with thousands of fans watching, hoped for the best. What happened next followed the common saying, “what goes up, must come down, bounce off my palm and fall onto the ground!”

While I should have been utterly devastated, the smiling faces of 200 of my peers marching off the field following the performance lifted me out of despair. We exchanged several congratulatory high-fives while the crowd cheered in approval. I found myself in a state of euphoric relief. I was empowered the rest of the season with the assurance that if I failed, the world would not stop, and the football team could still crank out a win (which they did).
This experience brought on a realization (brace yourself for a cliche): It is important to recognize that in life, we are our biggest critics. Rest assured that even when all eyes are on you and you fail big, people eventually just go back to eating their hot dogs. Everyone, including you, moves on.

In my four years at Cal, I have come to understand the importance of perspective. Berkeley students are notorious overachievers, so it’s easy for us to obsess over every grade. Life moves on with or without the perfect score, so stop wasting time being concerned about the C when you wanted the B.

Even more important than your individual performance is the group of people that high-fives you afterward, regardless of whether you succeed or fail. In a huge community like UC Berkeley, it’s imperative that you connect with people who will always have your back. Mine happen to play instruments and march in sync behind me on a football field, but most anyone will do, so long as they support you.

I don’t think I’m done catching flailing batons. Life throws you plenty of batons, some of which you’ll catch and some of which you’ll need to pick up off the ground. At the end of the day, just make sure you have a community that will march forward with you.

Allan Yu, a cognitive science major, served as the drum major of the Cal Band in 2011.

MAY 11, 2012