The Last Lecture: The Importance of Being There

Last week was the final week of classes for the spring semester. With graduation in just one week, the past couple weeks have been a series of joyful and poignant final moments—classes, tours, meetings, recitals, banquets, and get-togethers.

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As part of Senior Week, I attended “The Last Lecture” on Monday, April 20. Martha Olney, an economics professor at UC Berkeley, gave a talk on “The Importance of Being There.” She shared about creating memories, like watching Bandaloop on Cal Day, being there for The Play IMG_0489at the 1982 Cal v. Stanford football game, attending concerts and plays, being in nature, and attending graduation. Her point reminded me of a wonderful quote from The Phantom Tollbooth that has resonated with me this past year: “The most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what’s in between, and they took great pleasure in doing just that.” Reflecting on my time at Cal, I have very much appreciated the journey and the “in between” moments. I have enjoyed conversations with strangers on Sproul Plaza (I once had a 30-minute conversation with someone about spaghetti), celebrated final finals with midnight hikes to the Big C, and gone on spontaneous adventures to San Francisco with friends. Sometimes impromptu or unscheduled happenings are the most memorable.

Professor Olney also shared about the importance of supporting others and helping friends, but remembering our limitations. Many people experience depression and anxiety in college, and even though we may not know what to do, we can refer them to people who do. Despite academic challenges or other circumstances, Professor Olney reminded us, “You are special. You are valued. You. Just as you are. Just by virtue of your birth. You are loved.”

IMG_0421My favorite part of the talk was her perspective on what a college education means. A college education is so much more than just learning in a classroom. It is about activities, relationships, and conversations with other people. I have found this to be so true, and I am really thankful for the experiences that I have had outside the classroom at Berkeley and around the bay area, that have contributed to shaping my learning and understanding of communities and myself.

The final topic Professor Olney touched upon was research. She defined research as a question, a method for answering the question, and an answer. In short, it’s a story. And our identities and our experiences influence the questions and the stories. With the Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements, individual experiences and stories shaped the conversations that people were having about the issues. Each of us brings a different perspective, and it’s important to contribute. She ended the lecture with this: “Cal taught you the importance of being there. Be present. Be vocal. Be someone who makes a difference. Be a Golden Bear.”

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Cal has been an amazing home for me the past four years, and upcoming graduation is an exciting but also bittersweet moment. It is hard leaving people and a place that I care so much about, but I know there’s much to look forward to as well. I am so thankful for the people that I have met at Cal and the opportunities here. For the incoming Golden Bears, I am so excited for you! Cheers to the incredible adventures to come!

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Author: Jane

Hello! My name is Jane, and I’m a senior majoring in Psychology and Public Health. Originally from Davis, CA, I love adventure and exploring new places. I’ve traveled to six continents, and most recently spent this past summer in Madagascar hanging out with lemurs! In addition to giving tours of UC Berkeley, I’m also involved with research at the Golden Bear Sleep and Mood Research Clinic, planning events for the Regents’ and Chancellor’s Scholars Association, and providing anonymous peer support for SPILL. In my spare time, I enjoy playing piano and violin, swimming, lounging in sunny spots around campus, and hiking the Berkeley hills. Cal is a dynamic, inspiring place, and I’m constantly excited by the opportunities here for learning, growth, and discovery. Go Bears!