a large system, and it's designed to weed out the
weak, but the overall experience is inherently valuable because the
challenges are great. The school itself isn't the only
attraction; there's also the competition, the great bookstores and libraries,
the interesting alumni with their interesting businesses, and the overall
environment. I spent a lot of my time there
working to earn money for school, and socializing and partying,
and basically recovering from being a high school spazz.
Academics took a back seat, and I switched to an
easier course of study, but the competition kept me on
I actually wasn't much of a student, and
instead, spent a lot of my mental energy doing “self
study” in the libraries (which are all top notch), building
electronics projects, hiking the hills, and learning to write (some)
on the internet. None of this would have been
possible were it not for the financial aid checks, student
loans, high paying jobs nearby, and close proximity of all
these great opportunities. Thanks Cal, and the state of
I know some people who make fun of Cal
grads, because so many are willing to follow their odd
dreams... but I also meet so many folks who have
a lot of education and money, who just gripe about
how unsatisfied they are with life. Which is worse?
Berkeley is a place where you can teach yourself
to be free, because you learn about so many different
ways of being. It also provides enough academic challenges
and has a sufficient reputation to assure you of living
middle class suburban lifestyle, if you choose to climb the
Yesterday, on the freeway, I saw a slightly
beat up truck with a bent fender, piled up with
weird gear, and a “CAL ALUMNI” license plate frame.
The guy looked like he was running some kind
of business out of his pickup, or running a work
errand. Who knows. You don't often see a
UCLA or Stanford plate frame on a pickup, especially one
that's actually used for real work. I instinctively heckled
my passenger with a “Go Bears!"
I was reminded of
the one time when I was at Cal, when three
of us undergrads were driving up the freeway from SoCal,
and blew out a tire. The spare was the
wrong size wheel. How screwed is that. We were
stuck on the median. Nobody stopped to help, except
for one guy. You guessed it: a UC Berkeley
student. (We eventually re-balanced the car onto three wheels
and managed to get to a gas station.)
“liberal” rep is severely overstated. Yes, there are a
lot of radicals there, but, the most famous writer to
come out of Cal from when I was there is
Max Boot, the arch-conservative, nationalistic warhawk, and defender of imperialism.
I'm quite embarrassed about this, but, such is life.
When I was there, Cal also had a gun club,
and numerous holy roller groups, so, don't go saying it's
a liberal school. It is, or was, a diverse
school, and there's a range of opinions there.
that the cessation of Affirmative Action was a big mistake.
School should be about more than testing and information
overload. Yes, the retention rate of these students is
lower than for others, but, it's not for lack of
intelligence, but culture shock and lack of academic support.
Some did make it, though, and for them, it's worth
it. Moreover, the rich mix of re-entry, working class,
wealthy, influential, and middle class people was, in itself, valuable.
College is just four (or five) years of life.
The “real world” is often full of unwritten rules
and regulations that keep people “in their place”, and college
should be a place to experience something else. This
should go double for top schools like Cal.
thing... the food in Berkeley is amazing. It's some
of the best food I've ever eaten in my life.
I can still recall the flavor of Cheeseboard pizza,
Peet's coffee, Flint's BBQ, and Top Dogs. The salads
at some restaurants were awesome. The beer was delicious,
Epilogue: I graduated, and was still a spazz
and a misfit, but a much better person.