With 15+ (!!) seniors leaving us this year, I’m the first to tell you that we’ll feel the absence of their energy. I’ve learned so much while building a venture with one of them, exploring my definition of impact and bleaching my hair with another, and incorporating an ungodly amount of spinach into my diet with a third.
But this isn’t about me. We’re here to embrace the influence that these passionate self-starters have left on us as well as celebrate their next step forward. I asked them about the lessons they’ve learned through the years or reflections they wanted to share — here’s what some of them had to say:
College is at the same time really important, really fun, and really short. You have a very short time scale to optimize focusing on academics, searching for professional growth and networking, gaining life experiences, and having a good time. It’s almost impossible to know how to get the right balance as a freshman, and everyone’s journey in figuring this out is a really important part of the “college experience”.
What I wish I had as a freshman was the resources and tools to assist in this very personal and individual journey. The best way to get these resources is, without a doubt, finding friends and mentors. This is the cheat code to life. Build up an extensive network of friends who are older and can offer you wisdom and life shortcuts, as well as friends in the same class/age/major etc. as you who you can work on things and have fun together with. Make a solid effort to get to know and befriend the juniors and seniors in your social circles — they’re great people who have done cool things and who are severely underutilized by most underclassmen. They’re not just going to offer you help because they’re great people though; if they help you, it will be because you’re their friend and you specifically reached out to them.
Something more specific to me: I wish I didn’t double major and took less difficult mandatory core STEM classes, instead taking cool elective classes and spending more time working on things I’m passionate about.
Really really can’t stress these 2 enough: study abroad and make friends who are very different from you (different in academic pursuits, background, culture, upbringing, interests). Studying abroad not only just fun for a semester (refreshing break from Berkeley) but also the opportunity to learn/absorb/appreciate a new culture and lifestyle, meet people from all over the world (that you can couch surf with in the future), and realize all the things you love about your home and even Berkeley. Making friends who were different from me was by far the most fulfilling part of college for me, cultivating my love for traveling and making me a smarter, more empathetic person by way of learning from other people’s experiences and intellect.
Tangible things I wished I did: continue to learn another language, join an interest or hobby organization, do a double major (if you’re Haas, I really can’t stress this enough — these accounting classes gave me so many existential crises — but in general, having an interdisciplinary field of study is important), write more, and plan more SEP ski trips earlier.
Less tangible: stop caring what other people think (i.e. don’t be a pushover) and don’t take school and career pursuits too seriously all the time (especially by traveling or meeting people outside of your usual social and academic circles because then you’ll realize how much there is to this world and how little studying or having an internship really matters).
What I’ve learned:
- Try to join organizations that have different types/demographics of people (these were Zahanat and SEP for me).
- Living with people you love is amazing. If you have enough people who want to live together, I would highly recommend living in a house.
- Righteous anger is very unhealthy since it is hard to let go. I know getting frustrated just makes me more ineffective and just leaves me less happy.
- I wish I didn’t care about others opinions or views of me as much as I did in my first 2 years. Try out anything you’re interested in before it’s too late!
What I would stress to underclassmen:
- Find a/your community at Cal. To say Berkeley is large and overwhelming would be an understatement. My freshman year, I was so unbelievably unhappy because all I did was study in my dorm and wonder why I didn’t have any friends. That all changed sophomore year when I forced myself to join an organization on campus (**ahem** SEP). Suddenly, I had these group of friends who were all so intelligent, fun, and supportive. I cannot stress this enough: JOIN ORGANIZATIONS AND CLUBS — you will benefit from them immensely, socially and professionally.
- Only allow yourself to choose academics over going out with friends/doing something fun once a week. I guarantee you will be miserable and full of regrets if all you do is study at Berkeley (which I know is very tempting here).
- Be courageous and try lots and lots of DIFFERENT things. Don’t get stuck on that one path every Berkeley student is telling you is the path to success (unless you really want to — then go for it!). Take classes for fun (I highly recommend decals and PE classes!), join clubs and organizations, seek out diverse jobs and internships, BE SPONTANEOUS!
- Try not to compare yourself to others. This is by far the most difficult thing to do (at Berkeley and just in general), but it’s the actual key to a happy college experience and life.
I think one of the scariest things about entering and leaving college is finding a new friend group. It’s really hard to feel alone at a big school with big classes and big competition. I definitely think that joining all kinds of random, unexpected clubs and groups is the best way to navigate it. Even though getting into clubs here is also competitive and hard, the smaller rejections we face here are what help us survive larger failures later in life. Berkeley builds tenacity like no other school from what I’ve seen. I’m grateful for all the random clubs and experiences I’ve had — Engineering Student Council, Leadershape, A Capella, SEP etc. All of these brought me unexpected friends and growth experiences. Be bold, be brave, and don’t be afraid to keep trying at things you’ve failed at before! I was literally first rejected from half the stuff that I’m now a part of.
Also, studying abroad was such an important experience in helping me realize how toxic a lot of Berkeley’s job hunt/brand name obsession/etc. was. I’d highly highly recommend going abroad to create some perspective and distance from the Berkeley bubble!
What I would suggest:
- Take classes you are genuinely interested in! This way, even if the class is hard or out of your comfort zone, it’ll still be rewarding and you’ll be more motivated than you would taking something more “cookie-cutter.” Just explore all the weird opportunities that Berkeley (or whatever college you’re at) has to offer because that’s how you might unearth a new passion or appreciation for something. So, audition for that singing class, take an astronomy class and spend a month drawing the moon (true story), go abroad, or join a student-run theater group because why not. I found my love for plays and creative writing (as well as my minor) by following this — so I know it can be effective for you, too. This also goes hand in hand with internships/careers. Recruiting is SO SO stressful — don’t forget that 1) there are thousands of people struggling with you and 2) always be kind to yourself during the process. Also, grow with intention — make sure there is at least one big thing about each job opportunity you take that excites you, whether it’s the role itself, the company’s mission, the people, etc.
- Document your time here! I highly highly recommend getting a journal and filling it with your thoughts and memories starting from when you are a freshman to when you are about to graduate. You are going to have some of the most hilarious, beautiful, and amazing moments during these four years, as well as some of the most pivotal, challenging, and difficult experiences as well. All of these are more than worth documenting and are so invaluable to look back on. If journaling seems daunting, you can always explore different options (app-based alternatives, filling each square of a calendar with one highlight of that day, etc.). Fill it with your wild adventures, with your heartbreak, with your sadness, with your triumphs, and with the numerous stupid and funny stories you’ll undoubtedly accumulate. You’ll get to read it back and see so much growth.
- Keep perspective on your priorities! I know it’s hard to feel this way when you’re grinding away on an endless paper or scrambling to code a project that you’re on your last slip day for, but there are things vastly more important than the grades you get on one assignment in one class in college — or even the grade you get overall in that class or your GPA as a whole. Your mental health and your friendships should take priority. I believe college is not about the grades you get but about what you learn. So much of that learning comes from the amazing people you surround yourself with, the moments you share with them, and the relationships you foster. College is literally nothing without that. As serious as the words mental health sound, it boils down to these two questions: Are you happy? Are you healthy? If a club or your course load gets in the way of this, then change something! Join a meditation class, drop that studio course, leave that ~toxic~ club. Never let your happiness and health take a backseat.
About my experience: As an out of state student coming from a small high school, I can say that Berkeley was really intimidating my first few months. There were 1000+ students in my CS classes and so many different organizations and friend groups I could have been a part of. Since I was interested in hackathons, I decided to join the organizing team for Cal Hacks, and that gave me my first glimpse to being part of a community. However, something I slowly realized throughout freshmen year was that my friend group of CS majors wasn’t that diverse, so I started to expand my social circle through SEP and meeting a variety of new people.
I think being social in college, going out, pushing you to your limits and trying new things are the best things you can do for yourself. There are so many cool opportunities offered Berkeley and the surrounding areas that you can never have an “empty” weekend. Going out and trying new things is what made me who I am and what helped me realize what my true interests are and what I want to pursue in the future. To me, the best way to cope with the stress that Berkeley comes with is by surrounding yourself with people who will help you grow and be there for you. Do this through your organization, the people you live with, etc. It’s important to keep these people close to you and be social so that you can cope with things that Berkeley puts us to. Lastly, just be your best self and learn who you want to be and what you like to do because that’s the only way you’ll truly be happy and come out stronger.
Like any new chapter in life, it’s almost impossible to have everything figured out in the beginning. That’s OK! If anything, college is the time where you can afford to have no idea what’s going to happen or where you’re going to end up. That’s what makes it such an important and exciting time. The best thing you can do for yourself is to try as many things as you can, and soon enough, you’ll end up right where you want to be. This means signing up for stuff that genuinely interests you, and not caring about what other people think! Give yourself the opportunity to learn and grow by immersing yourself in new environments that help you discover the subjects and people that interest you. Expose yourself to people and ideas different from you. I really believe that this is what shapes you into your best self.
As far as academics, trust what you enjoy learning about, and you’ll find that taking classes for the subject rather than your resume or GPA will be so much more fulfilling. Finding your niche can be hard when you’re surrounded by so much competition, but the most important thing I’ve learned is to not compare yourself to others.
Find a community that shares your interests but celebrates you for your diversity. I think ambition comes from learning about so many different ways of life. Halfway through college, I found myself in a tight bubble where I felt like my goals were set by others because everyone was studying the same subject as me. This got me sucked into some toxic Berkeley standards, pushing me to apply to jobs for the wrong reasons. With SEP, I was surrounded by a group of people who didn’t push these certain post-college expectations, and it eventually expanded my vision for what I wanted for myself rather than limit it to what it seemed like everyone else was doing. If I wasn’t exposed to this diversity of thought, I wouldn’t have trusted what I really wanted to do, and I wouldn’t have been confident enough to set high goals for myself. Finding that balance between fun, personal growth, and career is so much easier with a support group that cares about you. This is also why it’s important to join organizations in college even if they’re not related to academics — not only does it give you a small home within a big school, but it also gives you people to look up to, to learn from, but also to have fun with.
We will miss you all. </3