This year, I’ve gotten used to hearing the sound of my own voice.
That is a strange statement to write, but in all my time at UC Berkeley, and especially in this virtual year, it’s one of the things I’m most proud of.
My voice has always felt like a foreign entity in my throat, something that didn’t really belong to me. Whenever I open my mouth, I’m never fully certain what octave it will be in or tone it will have. Never certain if it will crack and divulge how nervous I am to use it.
And I needed to use it a lot this year.
After spending two and a half years in The Daily Californian’s news department, I took on the important, and frankly terrifying, task of being its managing editor my senior year. A lot of my anxiety surrounding taking up the position was centered around my voice: the meetings I would need to lead, the kind of advocate I would need to be for our work, the decisions I would need to make. These thoughts tied a knot in the back of my throat that made it difficult to swallow, let alone speak.
I spent much of my inaugural time as managing editor contending with that knot. I’d force my voice around it every day and end every day feeling like I was recovering from a cold. It was exhausting. But after countless decisions made and who-knows-how-many Zoom calls, I noticed the knot had loosened.
I reached a point where hitting the “start meeting” and “unmute” buttons didn’t send a wave of self-doubt coursing through my body and leading meetings didn’t suck out every ounce of my energy. It was never easy, but every day started to feel like just another day. I would open my mouth and hear myself speak, and every variation of my voice met my ears with a growing sense of familiarity. When I didn’t have to speak over the knot in my throat, I got to know myself better.
Untying that knot is a battle I know intimately, but it is taxing every time. My voice carried me well through high school, where I was a choir major at a performing arts school, but that competitive and group-oriented atmosphere also detached me from my voice. I grew accustomed to it being subsumed in a chorus of 40 others, perfectly content in fading into harmonies and only leaning into dissonance when it meant singing a C against a C sharp.
I learned to blend my voice to match the tones of others, and I learned to hide well. But that meant the knot in my throat only grew stronger, as I rarely exercised my vocal cords only for myself. I got so used to the knot that I hardly realized it was there.
But when I had to speak without a chorus supporting me, I felt completely vulnerable. People would hear only me, not the collective power of 40 voices, and when I got to UC Berkeley, I felt more exposed than ever. I felt like I needed that power, and I just didn’t have it. The knot reared its head again.
It’s easy to feel your voice drowned out by the cacophony of the tens of thousands of other people who attend this school. It’s easy to feel like yours isn’t as significant or doesn’t hold as much value. But the Daily Cal has shown me that every voice has a purpose. Every person we talk to as reporters has something to say, and we have the privilege of amplifying those voices to the community. It has shown me that I have a voice, too, and it is powerful in its own way.
As managing editor, I was looked to for answers, and I had to get used to hearing myself give them. Words leaving my mouth helped form the direction our paper took this year, and those words felt more and more like my own as the year went on. I learned to trust them and trust myself. I learned to see that my words hold weight and value, even when my voice may crack or waver as I deliver them.
And I’ve only just gotten used to it. I’m still on the road to accepting my voice — how it catches in my esophagus, gets lost in a crowded room and lilts beyond my control. But I hear my voice, and I don’t recoil from the sound.
It is part of me. It lets me say “hi” to my friends and tell my dog how cute she is. It lets me express the knowledge I’ve gained in my four years at UC Berkeley — when I can remember what I’ve learned. It lets me sing too loudly in my car and make people turn their heads in my direction at red lights. It lets me take up space, even when that space is small.
As I graduate, I know my voice will inevitably come up against louder, more forceful ones. But I know mine has purpose too, and I can recognize when I need to use it and when I need to let it rest.
So here I am, using my own voice, for myself, for the first (and last) time at the Daily Cal. I’m grateful for my voice, and I’m grateful we are no longer strangers. We are old friends, finally reconnected.