Where did college go?
It has been about four years since I’ve started this affair with the University of California, Berkeley – if I don’t start counting from third grade when I announced during story time that I wanted to attend this university.
For those of you who know me, or perhaps those graduating seniors who have been following my Senior News and Clues email closely, it comes as no surprise that this is a time of possible excessive sentimentality. And it certainly comes as no surprise that I write this staring out a dusty, fingerprinted, wall-length glass window at Sacks coffeehouse, on College Avenue, again procrastinating during finals. My coffee, cold as it’s gotten, seems all the more bitter now that I reflect and really let it sink in: this is my last stretch of finals as an undergraduate. And my last post for the Haas Undergraduate Blog.
In the time it takes me to write this I could be studying the AD/AS model to a tee, I could be gallivanting along residential streets in the City, I could be sleeping, I could be trying a local eatery I’ve never tried. Tradeoffs abound by the minute. Time passes sooner than we can think. We’ve spread ourselves pretty thin as Berkeley-Haas students, from sitting through UGBA-10 to the final rounds of recruiting. Sometimes it makes you question what it would have been like had you taken an hour off of studying, redistributed time and priorities; what else would have been accomplished.
The fast approach of graduation puts one in a more retrospective mood than usual, and in what little introvert time I’ve managed sitting on the rug of my Berkeley apartment or on a bar stool at the Berkeley Art Museum café, I’ve gathered together some thoughts about my experience at Haas. So here they are, typed up, perhaps a little more cohesive than they’ve been in my head.
It happened one evening, my elbow on my knee munching on sweet potato fries at local favorite Freehouse. Up came the topic of Haas admissions and the major. There’s something quite unusual about hearing a group of business students reflect on their choice to be business students, and a very diverse group at that. You have the representative of the Greek life, of a business fraternity, the International student, the extrovert, the introvert, etc. I’ll be frank and admit, I was not and am not the most willing nor enthusiastic business student. Among the group that night I was probably the one most hesitant to answer, “Would you have done it again? Would you have done Haas?” While the choice has been a source of much tension and stress, it has also been one of much learning and growth that I would have been sorely different without. Difficult to imagine what Berkeley, or life, really, would have been like along another path.
I found myself walking along College Avenue post-food-coma-inducing-burger-meal trying to explain the culture at Haas to a friend in L&S. And as is bound to happen in any conversation on that topic, the nature of competition came up.
It’s competitive, yes. The curve (or enforced mean, or whatever they call it) sucks, yes. People are go –getters, yes. I think the mistake here is 1) the assumption that competition is synonymous with business, 2) taking these to be standards of behavior that need to be surpassed, in other words, adopt the mentality that I need to be competitive and busy to the extreme and 3) the idea that competition and a competitive attitude are necessarily bad. Competition is present in many fields, in different forms – that it exists at Haas should therefore come as no surprise. Often people reflect on UGBA-10 as the annex of competition, and they slap that experience as the defining experience of business, when in reality it’s all in the outlook. I’ve found outlets in quirky, quiet friends (for you extroverts out there: quiet people are interesting too), the Cohort Program, and the Haas Blog, and really many of my experiences in classes have been more cooperatively competitive than anything. Everyone is just trying to do their best, and who would say competing to do your personal best is a bad thing?
Let us be honest with each other. This is not by any means a positive phrase, nor was it intended to be. And if you have yet to realize it, let me be the bearer of some not-so-pleasant news: Haas students are not the most well-regarded students on the Berkeley campus. With our emblazoned backpacks, air-conditioned classrooms, and location up on the hill, is it any wonder? And why is it that when pegged as a Haashole we sometimes feel the impulse to throw the faulty persona right back?
There are a whole host of other things that give us a bad rap too lengthy and dense to discuss in a paragraph, but I am happy to witness increasing awareness on the issue, which the Undergraduate Program (think the Four Defining Principles) and the Undergraduate Cohort Program (creating community, both at Haas and with the rest of campus) are both addressing. And how? Through changing perceptions through changing the models for what a business leader can be – us. Greater awareness on both ends – Haas and the greater Berkeley campus – is needed to rename, redefine the business major, so that it no longer becomes “us” versus “them”, but just us.
Here’s a thought: why not shoot for Haasome?
The Road Ahead
First, finishing finals. Then, graduation. With all of the recent grad pics popping up on social media, I can’t help but think that on May 19th at the Greek, someone, clad in a black wizarding gown, is going to look at me seriously in the eye, their hand on my shoulder at the Greek and say (in British lilt), “We expect great things from you, Hillary!”
It’s been a great couple of years, Haas. Signing off.
Class of 2014