This December, after five and a half years of college, I finally graduated from Berkeley, with B.A.s in both English and math.
Six of those eleven semesters took place at Cabrillo College, my local community college. I did love Cabrillo, and I could have kept taking classes there forever, but that’s not why I stayed an extra year in addition to the two required to transfer—nor was it because I was lacking in units. I stayed because I still hadn’t decided what to major in. I already knew I loved math (yes, it’s possible to love math) and I loved English, but I wanted to be sure they were right.
It didn’t surprise me that I didn’t have the epiphany I was hoping for during that extra year—at the end of those two semesters, I still had doubts about what to study. But I felt it was time to move on with my life, so I went for it—I transferred to Berkeley and committed to taking about 8 units each of math and English classes for the next two and a half years.
Studying math at Berkeley was an adventure in itself, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about, so I’ll stick to English. I’d naïvely assumed English would be the easier of my two majors (in fact both majors were hugely challenging but in different ways), but I soon learned that the word “easy” belongs nowhere near Berkeley. I came in thinking that, although I thoroughly disliked writing essays, at least I was good at it; after getting grades back on a couple, however, I realized I wasn’t that good after all, and (needless to say) that didn’t make them any more fun.
Struggling through my assignments, though, didn’t stop me from loving the major itself. I loved sitting in lecture and listening to brilliant professors say brilliant things. I loved having to read things I wouldn’t have otherwise thought to read (transcripts from the Salem witch trials in Donegan’s English 166AC); being guided through works I never would have understood on my own (Ulysses in Flynn’s 126); studying books I already knew and loved (Pride and Prejudice in Blanton’s 45B); even critically analyzing pop culture (Beyoncé’s Lemonade in Ellis’s 31AC). I loved meeting fellow English nerds in class and at EUA events and realizing that we were all experiencing the same struggles (“I love this book but I have so much else to do that there’s no way I’ll finish it in time,” “I wish I could go to that poetry reading but it’s at the same time as my discussion section,” “I have to write two papers this weekend and I haven’t had time to start them yet”). I loved attending the Berkeley Connect book club/EUA Reads and hearing others’ thoughts about books and stories and poems without having to worry about close reading and participation grades. I loved taking the UC Hogwarts DeCal and finding friends in my classmates—sweet, intelligent, fun folks who love Harry Potter as much as I do.
And even the essays—in the end, they weren’t all bad. Somewhere in there, I did start to improve—all those office hours, and all that constructive criticism, and maybe also just breathing in Berkeley’s intellectual atmosphere, eventually added up to me becoming a better writer. It was still challenging, and my grades still fluctuated some, but by my last semester or two writing essays was no longer drudgery. Sometimes, when I wasn’t thinking too hard about deadlines or math midterms, I daresay I actually enjoyed writing them.
Now I’m two months out of college and it’s no surprise that I still don’t know what to do next. Maybe part of me is still waiting for that elusive stroke of inspiration. But I know that it won’t be long before I tell myself to get on with my life and do something and that it’ll be the right choice somehow, just like majoring in English was. I mean, yeah, I admit it’s unlikely that I’ll end up with a career in the literary analysis essay industry (ha ha ha). But whether I’m reading books or reading the world (something we should all be better at), I’ll always have what I learned in Berkeley English.