I took my graduation pictures last week while walking around campus with a mask on and travel-size hand sanitizer in the pocket of my stole. Facing the camera outside VLSB alone and empty-handed, I stood looking out at the seemingly abandoned expanse of campus in front of me. This wasn’t supposed to be how things ended.
I was supposed to be posing on these stairs hand-in-hand with my beloved friends Fernanda, Jasper and Jessie. I was supposed to be clutching my sides laughing and tossing my cap in the air alongside the people who got me through these tumultuous four years. I was supposed to be walking across the stage and looking out into the crowd to spot my mother and my sister, honoring the women who sacrificed everything for me to live out my first-generation American dream. There was so much that was supposed to happen.
It’s impossible to discuss my undergraduate career without referencing my mental health, the devil that molded me into someone I couldn’t even recognize at times, even as I desperately tried to keep myself afloat. It was at UC Berkeley that I lost myself and then managed to slowly rediscover who I was through the small moments with friends that I can now reflect on, like mirrors that they held up for me to carefully peer into.
These days, I find myself thinking about Andy Bernard’s line in the finale of “The Office” — “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” I am certainly guilty of taking for granted the small moments of happiness that became familiar, reliable aspects of my life at UC Berkeley even as my mental health colored my life beige.
Since COVID-19 has driven us into isolation, I have longed for the seemingly mundane experiences: The quiet walk from Southside to VLSB in the cold of the early morning, the sweet taste of the chai latte at Café Blue Door during a study session, the late-night boba runs to U-Cha with my friends known jokingly as “the Butters.”
It pains me to think that there was a last time I did these things and I didn’t even know it. There are friends whose faces I will never see again, organizations I’ll never be a part of again, professors whose lectures I will never attend again. Ironically, the things I often dreaded the most — like attending 8 a.m. lectures with Fernanda or studying for midterms in Main Stacks until 2 a.m. with Jasper — are the things I miss the most about my time at UC Berkeley.
Looking back, it was these seemingly insignificant moments that kept me afloat through even the worst of times when the hopelessness engulfed me and threatened to pull me under. The rushed chats I would have with friends that I ran into on my way to class, the calm of Strawberry Creek babbling beneath my feet, the Christmas hat I’d spot on the VLSB Tyrannosaurus rex every winter — like a mosaic of memories, events and people, lifting me up, dusting me off and sending me out into the world again and again.
On the mornings when I felt like I couldn’t get out of bed, the promise of even such small happiness made me lift myself up and prepare to fight once more. These ordinary occurrences with my loved ones gave me something to hold on to while I glued myself back together, microscopic piece by microscopic piece.
When I reflect on my time at The Daily Californian, I remember these small moments of joy distinctly — editing pieces as video game beat while laughing with Shannon, discussing my favorite new games with Harry, having existential conversations about art with Caroline and spilling the latest art-related tea with Samantha. In these moments, with every line of every column and article I wrote, I spun a thread that helped stitch me back together.
I never envisioned that a chance conversation with someone named Harry tabling on Sproul Plaza would lead me to finding some of my closest friends and confidants, my inspirations and biggest supporters who kept me practicing the art of writing even when my brain told me that I wasn’t capable or worthy anymore.
I may have been physically alone while posing for my pictures, but I felt everyone with me in the pieces of myself they helped discover and put back together with so much love.
I could feel them all standing next to me in that moment — Fernanda, who taught me how to be an unwavering advocate for myself; Jasper, who taught me how to how to be a good scientist and an even better friend; Jessie, who taught me how to accept kindness in my life; Suneela, who taught me how to love myself; and Kevin, who taught me how to love another person. So I collected myself and smiled, for the camera, for them and for myself.
I don’t know what the future holds for me in the coming years, let alone the coming months. The uncertainty makes me restless and, on bad days, brings out the medication-induced tremor in my hands. But I shut my eyes, pull my shoulders back and shake off the fear before stepping cautiously into the unknown.
I know I’m not alone — I’ve got a plethora of loving memories in my pocket and a sleuth of Bears by my side, every step of the way. My good old days have only just begun.
Manisha Ummadi joined The Daily Californian in spring 2017 as an arts and entertainment reporter and was the video game beat reporter from summer 2017 to spring 2019. She is graduating with bachelor’s degrees in molecular and cell biology and in immunology and pathogenesis and a minor in molecular toxicology.