Right now, I’m sitting just off campus in our newly minted Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA), the renowned art collection open free to all incoming students, in the bright Babette Cafe. Through a peek-a-boo window, Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia reads like a billboard for a recent gallery collection. The collection is a perfect allusion to Berkeley’s aesthetic: trendy ripped jeans, trusty Birkenstocks, a thrifted flannel tied around our waist. In every discipline, these same students are working to apply course content towards a better version of the future. It’s difficult, and we face setbacks, but Berkeley students are lucky enough to be surrounded by 36,000 other students – and 1,500 innovative, supportive faculty – seeking the realization of similar visions.
I gave a campus tour to 35 seventh graders from a naval base in Central California yesterday morning. They were rambunctious and enthusiastic; they were a crew of future video game designers, forensic anthropologists and officers. One student asked me a question that caught me off guard: “Why did you decide to go to to college?” I was privileged to come from a family where the question was not if I would go to college, but where. As I come to the end of my time as an undergraduate; however, I find that what I received from my decision to go to college (at the top public school in the world) surpass my expectation of a straightforward degree. I decided to go to college because I knew my degree would make me a competitive candidate for top jobs, and teach me about subjects I would not be exposed to otherwise. At Cal, the friends I’ve made are burgeoning leaders in their fields across the globe: D.C.’s incoming foreign service officers, South American Peace Corps volunteers, project managers in Ugandan refugee camps, pharmaceutical geniuses in Copenhagen labs, excellent listeners, great at making you laugh.
Today, UC Berkeley’s first-ever female chancellor, Carol Christ, was welcomed into her new positon. For young students contemplating attending college, or setting their sights on Berkeley, I feel that incoming Chancellor Christ put it perfectly; “Berkeley is as much about the community college transfer student from Modesto or Fremont or Arcata who discovers her intellectual passions here, and discovers she can excel, as it is about its Nobel prize winners. Indeed, it’s that combination that defines us.”