I first set foot at UC Berkeley the night before Cal Day in 2015. I had just been accepted a few weeks prior and I was on my senior weekend trip, where I would decide if UC Berkeley was going to be my home for the next four years. It was off to a rocky start, since although I had brought all my essentials for the trip, I had forgotten my towel. I was paired with another high school senior, Kaela, and we were assigned to stay in the Unit 1 residence hall with our host, a campus student named Julie. As I walked through the intimidating halls of the residence hall with Kaela, it was nice to have a friend. That night I used my host’s towel and slept next to Kaela.
The next morning, we were dropped off at Crossroads for breakfast, and Kaela and I got better acquainted, exchanging a few laughs. After breakfast, we walked back to Unit 1 before heading out to join the Cal Day festivities. Julie pulled out pineapple-flavored Amsterdam from her freezer, and poured a shot for herself in a Styrofoam cup and one for me in a shot glass. Two shots went down smoothly and I felt the warmth of the 40 proof travel down my body.
I walked through the multitude of tables in the heavily populated areas of visiting individuals and felt overwhelmed. We had time to roam from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and I was unfamiliar with the area, the community and the people. I walked around Memorial Glade, overwhelmed by the greenery of Cal. All the flowers bloomed together, the trees stood tall in close proximity to one another and the grass was green on every perimeter of the Glade. Even the Campanile in its towering stature did not stand alone as the peregrine falcons hovered over it.
I understood that with my move to Cal, I would be leaving behind my family, friends and the life I had created around me. But I also understood that in those two days, I had not felt alone. And so my journey at Cal began with the comfort of knowing that I would always find a friend somewhere on this campus.
During my first year at UC Berkeley, Shiekh Shoes was open next to Walgreens on Telegraph Avenue, and I walked past it everyday. A few weeks into the school year, I walked in looking for a pair of shoes more suitable for walking around campus. I bumped into a familiar face, Kristina, an old friend from middle school. We spent about half an hour trying shoes on, though we walked out of the store empty-handed. I was at ease knowing that it wasn’t the shoes that would make the difference walking through campus, but the ability to share the anxieties of college with a friend.
I spent my second year at Cal eating breakfast at Noah’s Bagels at least three times a week. Noah’s had been a staple for UC Berkeley students for years, having only recently closed. Despite their expensive prices, you could be walking by on any given day and there would always be a line. My roommate Georgina and I regularly went to Noah’s and bonded over bagels and hazelnut coffee. Coffee always gave me a kick-start in the morning, but it was Georgina who awakened in me the drive for self-growth.
During my third year at Cal, every morning I stopped by Equator Coffee at the MLK Student Union. I waited in line, exchanged pleasantries with the baristas whom I had become acquainted with, poured half and half into my medium roast coffee and headed to class. Equator Coffee was run by the liveliest baristas who played great music and always had a smile on their faces. Ben remembered my orders and always gave me a compliment. He reminded me that even on some of the most difficult days, a positive attitude could reshape the ways in which we saw our circumstances. Equator Coffee is no longer a part of MLK, but each time I pass it, I think of Ben and smile.
In my fourth year at Cal, I find myself drawn to a convenience store located halfway between Cal and the apartment I share with my roommates. Walgreens has soothed nerves with pints of ice cream, provided a variety of snacks for movie nights and become a conversation starter with the three-block walk to get there. It has bridged the unfamiliar gap with others and allowed for the growth of an honest, well-nurtured friendship. Erin and Madi have served as some of the most influential people in my growth here at Cal.
As graduation nears, I think about the people who have contributed to my growth during my time at Cal. A kind host letting me borrow a towel, a stranger becoming a friend over breakfast to reconnecting with an old friend at a shoe store and small talk with baristas. Some of the places where I have met these people are no longer a part of the Berkeley community, but the individuals are embedded in my memory. As I celebrate my last Cal Day with the closest of friends, I will once more be at ease knowing that I am leaving this campus with the comfort of lifelong friendships.