My Closure With Cal
In early November, I sat outside of Oakland International Airport internally questioning myself.
Would I burst into tears as I drove through College Avenue once again?
Would it simply feel all too normal as the baristas warmly greeted me with my regular order at Strada?
I came to the conclusion that I didn’t entirely know what to expect, let alone how to feel, about being back in the Bay Area for the first time since graduation.
Let me explain why.
Being the typical Golden Bear that I am, I read countless self-help and advice books about graduating from college and career-launching. Nothing could have prepared me for this transition except the experience in itself.
As a graduate of the COVID class of 2021, I didn’t feel a great sense of closure upon the completion of my rather unconventional undergraduate career. Like many students, my identity has been seemingly codified by my academic success, extracurricular activities, and internship experiences. I was quantified my entire life in order to get into college, and that feeling only became amplified at Berkeley.
Don’t get me wrong- I am so grateful for my college experience and wouldn’t change anything. The past four years have made me into the woman that I am today. But I have never experienced such an inherently competitive environment, that the students not only foster but reinforce. Unfortunately, it doesn’t end upon graduation.
While in a car packed with four of my closest friends, I was giddy about the prospect of seeing my alma mater lively once again. Well, primarily excited, though admittedly anxious.
I wasn’t looking forward to the constant “How does it feel to be back?” and “What have you been up to since graduation?” stream of questions.
I felt like I had to have a prepared response in my mind in case I got cold-called by some nosey acquaintance who suddenly had an interest in my life.
I kept on replaying the advice my mom gave me prior to my departure:
“Don’t let anyone get in your head about the path you have chosen.”
In my case, I suppose that was easier said than done.
A slight sense (or should I say overwhelming) of shame has embodied me since September. I saw myself as a recent graduate from one of the best institutions in the country who couldn’t land a job, while simultaneously trying to balance multiple family matters that we won’t get into.
I’ll be the first to admit that my path has felt like quite the antithesis of what one “expects” from a UC Berkeley graduate. After completing my education in August 2021, I thought I would be catapulted into the “real world”.
But what does that truly even mean?
In May, I moved back to San Diego and began a journalism program. My “Berkeley mentality” was not acclimating well to the laid-back city that I call home. Throughout the summer, I reconnected with old friends and created new friendships along the way. Their “go with the flow” energy deviated from my status quo. Most, if not all of them didn’t have jobs lined up after college. It was so different from the standard at Berkeley that I assumed was the norm.
That’s when it hit me.
The perception of success is so subjective. After quite the trend of rejections, I realized I needed to change my attitude in order to get through this transition. I keep trying to remind myself that I’m only 22 years old, and just completed my bachelor’s degree four months ago. I can’t continue to let my angst about starting the “next chapter” (I know…. eye roll) of my life continue to fester.
I knew it was time to fully embrace the end of one chapter, before embarking on the beginning of another.
Prior to my departure back home, I walked my best friend Charlotte to class, hand in hand. It felt comfortable, familiar.
As we walked down Bancroft on the brisk autumn morning, she gently asked, “So… Do you wish you were still here?”
I paused for a moment, as I reflected on all the times that I reminisced the simple pleasure of walking to class which I so greatly mourned throughout my senior year.
I replied with a simple “No.”
I explained that as much as I miss Berkeley, I understand that I have so much more to offer the world because of how much I’ve grown as a person since I first arrived on campus in 2017. As I walked through campus with tears streaming down my face, I realized it truly is the people that make it hard to leave Berkeley, not the place in itself. Sure, potato pizza at Sliver and coffee at Strada always hit the spot, but nothing surmounts the memories you create with good company. I have been blessed with the greatest friends. They have been by my side throughout my entire job search — through all the “I made it to the next round” highs, to the “I’m struggling to see my own worth” lows.
As I continue to grapple with the transition of being a recent graduate, I’ve realized that I have been conditioned to feel like I am falling behind. I’m slowly beginning to accept that this transition is in no way linear. It doesn’t have to be.
A few weeks after my visit to Berkeley, I found myself out and about on the eve of Thanksgiving with a group of friends.
A friend of a friend pointed at me from across the table and asked, “So, Lauren what are you up to these days?”
My response was unembellished. “I’m unemployed.”
He smiled at me from across the table and raised his hand to give me a high five.
For Mom, Dad, Margo, Charlotte, Charlie, Erika, and Audrey.