Like many others in the class of 2020, my chapter as an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley is in its final pages. Braided into this very dense, marvelous chapter are several pressures many college students deal with: snowballing debt, meandering friendships, physical and mental health complications. The process of comprehending and digesting emotionally heavy class material is often exacerbated with talk of climate refugees, economic and political turmoil and border disputes, pervasive in all news outlets.
And now, the coronavirus added another, unprecedented layer. Navigating dreams and aspirations appear far out of reach amid the present uncertainties.
All instruction swiftly became remote March 16. All campus buildings closed April 3 until further notice. The few individuals walking or running through campus are the only traces of a once lively campus, bustling with strangers. Strangers connected by nothing and everything.
Despite countless campus emails with administrative updates, it still seems illusive that March 15 was the last day I will ever spend studying as an undergraduate in Doe Library. This can’t be real. Over the last three years, I often spent my weekdays merrily studying in the northwest corner of Doe, probably reading some global studies textbook seduced with an academic-sounding chime, drifting in an intellectual sea of strangers. Strangers studying everything from astronomy to plant microbiology to political science. Strangers who likely also lose precious study minutes gazing at the exquisite curvature that defines Doe’s high ceilings.
On March 16, these days, like a youthful rug, were briskly swept away from under our feet, leaving many startled and sad. Every day, for hours on end, I find myself reflecting, looking backward, on moments and friendships that have shaped me over the last three years.
One time, I spent nine days exploring Oregon with three college friends. We spent each afternoon driving, blasting The Doors and leaping out of the car every time we passed an irresistible slice of the river. We spent each evening entranced with the night sky and critically exploring unanswered questions about the universe, cigars in hand.
One time, I flew down to Chile to meet my two closest college friends who had been studying abroad. The three of us bought cheap bikes, some bungee cords and biked 600 miles of Chile’s charming Route 7, or the Carretera Austral.
Some days, pain, heartache, anxiety and yearning for normalcy snake into my being and hold my mind captive in the darkest hours of night. I cannot and refuse to imagine a life beyond UC Berkeley. Life here is all I know and the end has arrived three months early.
Some days, I feel nothing. It is almost as if I am being held halfway outside an airplane with a heavy wind in my face and no parachute. But I am not fazed. The world is falling apart, tens of thousands of people are dying every day, families are suffering. But I feel numb.
Some days, I feel content, at peace and am able to realize silver linings. While it has become more apparent than ever that certain experiences and personal eras are fluid and fragile, UC Berkeley’s gift of growth will stay with me long after I begin a new chapter.
UC Berkeley has cultivated my mind and energized my spirit in ways far beyond the intellectual reach of the classroom. While classes, office hours and discussion sections have increased my capacity to critically think and engage in academia, I have felt the most spiritual and personal growth occur when surrounded by the people and communities I have fostered intimate relationships with.
Many sleepless nights have been filled with rich conversations, with peers, housemates and friends alike, about various schools of economic thought, the current state of our world and the ambiguity of human consciousness. We often spend twilight hours aimlessly wandering up and down North Berkeley’s hidden collection of stairways, sharing and elaborating on riveting articles and frameworks we learned in class. Some mornings, we drink coffee and design poems, in silence, about pleasing plants we saw, hugging sidewalk curbs or the Berkeley hills.
Before entering university, this type of intellectual engagement did not exist for me. I prospered in my high school’s AP classes but was never pushed much beyond this. The first year of college was also a shock. As a first-generation college student, I struggled with the confidence necessary to fully immerse myself in schoolwork. I thought everyone was well-read and clever. Except me. At this time, I would never have seen myself hosting book clubs to discuss Karl Marx’s “Capital” or Jenny Offill’s “Weather.” I would have never taken up space in class to answer questions posed by the professor. I would have found these interactions stressful, never enjoyable.
Just as it is a strange time to leave this extraordinary school, it is a strange time to enter. I assure you, however, there is no better place to be. There is also no better time to engage in the UC Berkeley community, a community united in its passion for people, consent and politics.
When calmness prevails and the need for six feet of separation dissipates, the 21st-century version of our planet will once again be permeated with hugs and kisses; some uncertainties will vanish. This time, though, the class of 2020 will be at the forefront of the world’s climate and public health initiatives, ready to embrace each other and sprout far above the current societal disorder.