School’s Out

As one senior looks toward graduation, she reflects on her time at UC Berkeley and the summers that helped shape her college experience.

The impending end of the spring semester. The onslaught of finals just around the corner. The sense that you need to “write like you are running out of time” (thanks Lin-Manuel Miranda). All the signs are there: while you were going through your second semester, your second semester was closing itself on you. The reminders are everywhere. It felt like just yesterday that my church mentor was reminding us seniors that we have four weeks before Dead week (formally known as Reading, Review, and Recitation or RRR week) and then two weeks before we officially exit college. And now Dead Week is already here. Where did the time go? With hardly any time to catch our breath, seniors are preparing for our very last exams, finishing those end of semester projects, and sending out those “big kid” job applications. The looming anxiety of post-college summer I feel as a senior is a strange contrast to the excitement of pre-college summer as a freshman.

“You better enjoy your summer vacations now,” an upperclassman friend jokingly warned me. “Once you graduate…” Her voice trailed off, leaving my mind to wander to the vast realm of post grad life. So, perhaps one of the most cohesive ways to describe my experience at UC Berkeley would be to describe my past four summers since that acceptance letter.

See you soon Berkeley

Backpedal four years, to the summer after high school graduation. That summer, I spent as much time as I could pedalling on my bike around my hometown. Biking provided a cathartic stress relief from the reality that I WAS GOING TO UC BERKELEY!!! The word “college” still conjured images of brick-made East Coast colleges I spent a good part of my childhood running around. Another good part of my childhood, admittedly, had been spent going to Lawrence Hall of Science or running circles around the Berkeley campus. Still, Berkeley felt like a foreign place to me, despite being only a thirty-minute drive from my parents’ house.

When I wasn’t soaking up the Bay Area sun on my bike, I read aggressively and feverishly. Call it foreshadowing of my eventual major (hint, look at the word “foreshadow”), but my reading stemmed from the terrifying rumor that (people said) I would have not time to read for fun in college. This is blatantly untrue. One can always make time to read for fun in college. Still, that summer I finally read all of The Chronicles of Narnia. The Last Battle was finished somewhere around 3AM in the morning (again, a foreshadowing of my college career) and I spent another thirty minutes in a dazed stupor at C.S. Lewis’ ability to mold simple words into complex stories. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was a slower read, but within the last three weeks before college I had finished all three of the books and forced my sister to watch the four hour, director’s cut version of each of the movies. So as *spoiler alert* the hobbits returned to the Shire, I packed my suitcases for Unit One: Freeborn Residence Hall.

Learning to slow down

Freshman year was perhaps one of the most fun years, if not the most fun year, of my college career and I approached the summer after with a rush of anticipation. I would be going on a mission trip to Cambodia with the Christian fellowship I joined. For that, I would need funds, as did my other friends who would be going. As a collective group, we sent out applications and resumes that included more high school qualifications than college achievement. By March, I interviewed for and accepted the position of Publication Assistant for New Student Services. By that time, I had also allowed myself to be cornered by the inevitable: I would be majoring in English. Between my hopes of mastering Chinese and possibly double majoring in something, the decision to take the summer Shakespeare class seemed the most practical.

Four days after I returned from Cambodia, I was running around Berkeley with a CalSO uniform, videocamera in one hand and a clipboard in the other, and starting my first job that didn’t involve housesitting animals. (CalSo was the new student orientation and is now known as Golden Bear Orientation.) One of the unexpected perks about being a student worker is that your boss knows that you are a student. My hours worked around my school schedule and my boss trained me in skills that I wouldn’t have learned in class. Summer classes at Berkeley also surprised me by being (wait for it) fun. Summer classes are usually smaller than the average lecture class. Professor Arnold led us in almost discussion-esque lectures about Anthony and Cleopatra and The Tempest. Class lasted three hours; I could have spent six hours in that class, to be honest.

Some things that will not show on my resume from that summer after my freshman year: I had gotten an internship which I resigned from after three weeks. I was still learning to factor in the “human factor” in my schedule. AKA, the body and mind need time to relax and rest and trying to juggle too many things left me exhausted. I would continue to learn that lesson the hard way throughout sophomore year. Indeed, it was a “suffer-more” year for my friends and I. In the midst of ten hours of work (seems reasonable) and my three student clubs (maybe not so reasonable) and five classes (definitely not reasonable), I experienced my first real freak out about internships and career. I knew my major. But, was I doing enough? Was I on the right track? Never before had Berkeley truly felt so large and confusing to me. I was having a mid-Cal crisis.

The summer of the unexpected

The summer after sophomore year reflected my uncertainty. I had moved into a new apartment with more friends and we were all trying our relational dynamic on for size. I continued working at UC Berkeley, now in the Student Affairs department, and began learning new skills like copyediting, monitoring social media, and website auditing. For my American Cultures requirement, I signed up for Education 140AC: Literacy and Society. Unbeknownst to me, half of my time would be spent mentoring middle school students in Oakland. Thursdays would find me, at 7:30a.m., dragging myself out of bed to the 51B bus stop so that I could catch my connector, the Rockridge BART. On pure whim (or whimsy), I also took a class on folklore and fairy tales. This class proved a combination of all things I loved: fairytales, literary analysis, history, Broadway musicals, and movies. Office hours became a regular event to talk to the professor about research and the merits (or lack thereof) in modern fairytale retellings. The summer was still a busy one, but it also moved at a less frantic pace than sophomore year. My uncle passed away that summer and my Education instructor allowed me an extension so that I could mentally and emotionally process. I ended up requesting an Incomplete for the Education class, something I never imagined I would ever do. The summer after sophomore year felt like the culmination of several different high-speed roads easing into a single converging lane. The mentoring experience was a hard one; I mentally crossed “teacher” off my career list but allowed “education” and “research” to remain tentative possibilities. The fairytale class remained a high point academically; I hoped to return to it. Unpredictable non-academic events had happened to me; life had happened to me. I took rest and leaned on friends.

London calling

Junior year and the summer after led me to more pruning of my interests to focus more on my passions. I knew I couldn’t do it all and I accepted that reality, as many Berkeley students come to realize. Two clubs were dropped and more time became invested in my Christian fellowship. Elective classes became more tailored to my concentration on nineteenth century novels. Tasks at work became more writing and editing oriented. Creative writing classes became an addiction. Intramural soccer became an outlet to relieve my stress. Friends became essential, absolutely essential. During my junior year, I was accepted to study abroad at the Summer Pembroke-King’s Programme, an 8-week program for students from universities around the world to experience Cambridge-style learning and student life. Anticipation built up over the year. I would be fulfilling a lifelong dream of studying British literature in the actual UK. As part of the program, I would be conducting independent research under a professor supervisor. This experience, I hoped, would build off research I started in my English research seminar and expand into a senior English honors thesis.

Those eight weeks in the UK was the longest period I ever spent outside of the country. Eight weeks to watch the Cambridge Shakespeare festival, bike in the countryside, and ride trains to as close as London and as far as Edinburgh. Eight weeks to meet friends across different international campuses, spend evenings in the houses of some of my local friends, and discuss topics that ranged from religion to philosophy to literature long into the night. Eight weeks of diving into archives, meeting with professors, and writing “like you’re running out of time” because we all were. Thus, my last summer as a student was spent as my first summer away from Berkeley. And I’m glad that I waited until my last summer to go abroad. In between homesickness, my friends and I had become closer so that I could Skype them while I still worked through the culture and the sea of new people in the UK. While sophomore year and the summer after felt like waves of every new thing pushing me around, summer after junior year felt more grounded. Mentally, emotionally, and socially, I felt more grounded even as I explored new places. The research over the summer acted as confirmation that 1) I wanted to do graduate school (eventually) and 2) I probably didn’t want my career to focus on research.

So after that final thesis draft was turned in for the summer program, and that train ride to the countryside was taken, I boarded the plane back to California and my final year of college at Berkeley.

A new chapter

Senior year felt like a strange culmination of all those summers. Each new school year seemed to lead up to the summer and the summer lead to the next school year. I still don’t bike in Berkeley, but I run the streets in Berkeley to get my share of sunshine and I read books for fun in between books for my thesis. An injury last semester reminded me again of that “human factor” when it comes to work and school. I need to remember that I’m, in fact, a human who can’t always go-go-go. In the face of new waves of relationships, job applications, and thesis deadlines, I continue to need to prioritize and prune off my schedule. UC Berkeley offers many opportunities, but, for your sanity, you can’t take all of them. And that is okay.

As I step into my first post-college summer, I realize it will be my first summer that isn’t consider “summer vacation.” And yet, very few of my summers since accepting my admission to Berkeley would be considered vacations. Yes, there were breaks from the rush of classes and the hustle and bustle of campus. But at the same time, the quality of the summer became formed by the three seasons I spent in school.

My summers became equally fulfilling as my experience at Berkeley during the school years. I have studied, traveled, and learned about myself during my time at Berkeley and my time away.

As a new summer approaches, I look back on my time at Berkeley and know that while I couldn’t do it all, I did quite a lot and that has shaped who I will be as I enter the world, ready to take on my next adventure, with a book in hand, of course!

Written by Amanda Kate Gee