By Ed Diokno
This is the time of year when high school seniors and community college transfers send out their applications for college. I was reminded of my experience as the first in my immediately family to graduate from college (University of California, Berkeley) by this Buzzfeed video by Heather Yang, the mother of Hudson Yang, who stars in the Fresh Off the Boat sitcom.
I can’t remember the time when I was NOT going to college. As the youngest of three children and the most “Americanized,” it was always assumed that I would go to college to become an architect.
I was in first grade when I boldly stated to my parents of my career goal. FIRST GRADE! What did I know?
It wasn’t until later that I figured out the reason I chose architecture was because my older brother wanted to be a draftsman and I asked my dad, who was in the Army Corps of Engineers, who would be a draftsman’s boss. When he said, “architect,” my future was mapped out. Ahh, sibling rivalry …
My sister, who dropped out of the University of Washington to get married and sacrificed her dream of becoming a nurse to raise her kids, accompanied me to the dorm. She was more exicited than I was, I think … reliving her first year at the UW dorms.
As a transfer student at Cal, the enormity of my acceptance to the best public university in the world didn’t hit me until after I arrived and began walking through campus. I kept thinking, the best and brightest were at this school, so what was I doing here?
I came from a small town with one high school where everybody knew everybody and here I was on a campus almost as large as my entire hometown.
Over there Martin Luther King spoke; here the Free Speech Movement was launched; John F. Kennedy spoke there. It was a bit overwhelming. If not for the friends I made at the dorm, I think I would have been lost. There was no thought of dropping out (except when I received a “D” in one of my engineering classes).
There were the anti-war protests, the Third World Strike, more anti-Vietnam demonstrations, the draft that hung over all of us, militancy of the Black Panthers and the Brown Berets, the environmental and women’s lib movements were born out the cauldron of change, and every Spring there was the smell of tear gas in the air as one walked through Sproul Plaza.
My education included late night discussions (that seemed important at the time) and poker games, all-nighters in cold Wurster Hall (College of Environmental Design), free donuts at the local Catholic church, Thursday night beer at Kips to kick off the weekend, and walking through campus after my ROTC class while still wearing my Army uniform and desperately searching for some justification for Vietnam and what I was feeling in my heart overruling my intellectual quest.
In that bastion of learning, I gained a lot of knowledge about right and wrong, how people think, about getting along with all kinds of people, but one of most important lessons was that despite my initial feeling of inadequacy and being an outsider (an extension of my high school experience), I discovered a lot about myself. I had found a place populated by fellow outsiders on similar journeys. At that particular place and time … I belonged.