My time at Cal is almost over and I must look back and ponder as to the value of my education beyond it’s sticker price. I would have to point out that no other period in my life has broken me down so completely and built me back into a more solid and complex human being. There are crook and crannies in the jumbled jigsaw that is me, where my metaphorical self resembles more a Picasso masterpiece than any other rendition of what a human being ought to look like. I used to be happy, 97.989999% of the time. Then I started learning about Inequality. Poverty. Hunger. Racism. Prestige. Wars. Waste. Repeat. Then I saw a path of light: Opportunity. Incentives. Change. Meaning in the face of madness. Never have I felt more shocked by the world, yet such an integral part of it. I am a participant and I choose to be informed in order to be an influential and powerful force of nature as I mentioned in my personal essay 4 years ago, “as a human being I am responsible for the future I shape because even one single individual can shape the world, like a single seed unleashes the existence of a tree that can nurture fellow saplings or even inhibit their growth through excessive shade.” Back then I wanted to be a doctor and heal people’s pain; today I want to be a policy maker and influencer of political and economic tides and heal people’s pain.
Thank you, UC Berkeley, for helping me realize who I am by breaking me, making me attempt to feel the pain of generations, and for the generous financial aid packages that allowed me to finish. Finances were always nagging the back of my mind and I entered college knowing that money making was a priority. I knew because when I was young my father and grandfather told me I would starve if I became an artist or a musician or a writer. I knew because I had always had free lunches in school. I knew because my educated father did back-breaking work to support his family. I knew because we had left our lives in Argentina and we were never going back. I had to pursue money or starve.
Here, I learned that many people are on the brink. Most who are in that situation are probably worse than me. I have great friends and some family in the states, but still I took a semester off due to this strange feeling of stress. I had never been stressed before, not in high school, not in my one semester at a community college and not even through the majority of my time at Cal. I was so close to the end (just one more year) when I couldn’t suppress the sensation that air was a foreign object trespassing and that I had to find a solution. I wanted to earn money so that this nagging fear would go away, so that I could finally fully focus on my school work. The scary reality is that out there in the real world everyone seems to want you to have a completed Bachelor’s Degree. I’m not really sure why since many positions probably did not need to know that I took Macroeconomics or that I had an online introductory course in Computer Science. Lets just say that the semester away from Cal was a hell of a lot more scary than being financially unstable in college. I returned to Cal with fresh eyes. I had lived in between places for a short time because I couldn’t pay rent but I had great friends who let me crash with them. I wasn’t really homeless, but it felt that way emotionally. And that’s when I realized that what I valued more than anything wasn’t money, it was human connections. I didn’t care that the world is scary or expensive or guided by dollar signs, I cared that many people who were me or worse than me would fall through the cracks like an untethered mountain climber surrounded by people but supported by no one.
My goals in life, whether affluent or dependent on couchsurfing, lead me towards deeper and richer human interactions, human growth, and human advocacy. I want the things that don’t make sense in the world to be flipped right-side up. I want people who can’t afford something they need to be able to ask for assistance and receive it, but not at the expense of debt bondage for the rest of their natural lives. I want to leave this world someday, knowing that I tried and that maybe, just maybe, I succeeded a little and I helped a handful. So thank you, UC Berkeley, and to the world I say,
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door…[fiat lux]”
(–inscription at the foot of the Statue of Liberty | UC Berkeley’s motto)
Melisa E. Im
B.A. Political Economy ’14
Wealth Disparity & Social Policy in the United States