Best five years of your life?

So I got together with my college friend today which was pretty nice. She lives in SF and it was an opportunity to catch up and get out of the house and not think about job searching for a day. We had lunch in the Inner Richmond and then grabbed a coffee to talk about life and jobs and families and all that jazz.

As is the case every time we get together, we reminisced about college and how different life was and we were so so long ago (as an FYI, we graduated from UC Berkeley in 2001). As context, life was pretty peachy keen in the SF Bay area while we were in college. My friend has always worked in the non-profit field and said that in summer 2001, she had her pick of non-profit job offers. The same wasn’t necessarily true of the tech sector: at that point, the tech bubble had already burst so there was a certain level of trouble in the SF Bay. But then September 11, 2001 happened– when the airplanes were hijacked and crashed into the World Trade Centers in NYC– and all hell broke loose. Life has never been the same since.

I sense that this blog post is going to be somewhat hard to write b/c I will be going back and forth in tense: then and now. But my aim is to describe what life was when we were in the comfortable bosom of college and the real life that we were dumped into when we graduated. And also compare it to what students experience and go through today. So yeah, that’s my goal with regards to this discussion.

So back to college circa the late 1990s. When we were in college, life was stable and we never got the sense that life could be anything but great. Whereas kids these days start doing internships and thinking about career development while still wearing braces, we didn’t. (As an aside: this makes sense. People graduating college from 2005 and onwards STARTED college in 2001 and later, so they only knew about the bad world that we during college could never have expected. So they started those formative college years wiser and with more focus than I think we did.) We unabashedly effed around– which is not to say that we weren’t focused on our studies; we were… kinda. But we never had that sense of expectation or responsibility while in college that we had to look any more forward than the next quarter. We majored in what we wanted to, took random jobs during summer and figured we would think about job stuff when we had to.

Life as a whole seemed so much more wholesome when we were in college. I recently had a former coworker ask me why the class registration system at Cal is called Tele-Bears (he is now a bschool student at Haas). The de facto manner of applying for classes is online these days– which I think started officially maybe around 2001 or 2002. But back in the day, we registered for classes on the telephone. Telephone. You know, Tele-Bears…on the telephone. In fact, I think the phone number to call was something like 510-342-tele or something like that. I would guess that today’s student would find it unfathomable that they would have to apply to classes via the touchpad on a telephone but that’s how we lived, sonny! I remember one instance where my assigned Tele-Bears appointment coincided with my class so I ran out of my class and ended up using a payphone on Sproul Plaza to get my desired schedule.  And just in case you were wondering, young sir: when I was in college, nobody had cellphones (they didn’t become commonplace until around 2002, I think). I did however have my very awesome pager. 81773501773. (You get a shoutout if you know what the numbers on the left say in pagertalk.) {Sigh} Aww, the nostalgia from the days of yore…

We didn’t have facebook. We didn’t have handheld technology. We met up with people on campus. We had discussions and looked them in the eye– never diverting our gaze to check the FB feed on our smartphones b/c such a product and such a practice didn’t exist. Laptops weren’t popular at that point so if you were on campus, you were there, sitting in the sun, reading out of your reader. Shoot, life was so simple. We lived like Amish people.

During our chat, I wondered aloud whether we had an advantage or disadvantage because of the major shifts that occurred after we’d graduated. I sometimes think that we had/have a disadvantage because then the later generations had focus and clarity during their college years. For example, they probably majored in important things like Engineering or Economics and maintained good grades in order to gain acceptance to grad school– something that they always had in their grand plan. (To clarify: many ppl in our class also were focused but I tend to think they were in the minority or were just exceptional. It was not uncommon to be a dilettante in that day– something that I don’t think current generations are really allowed to be.) My friend and I joked about some of the crazy classes we took while in college. I took Nutritional Science. We took variations of planetary classes (like Filipenko’s Astronomy 10 class). I took a Human Sexuality class and did a very thorough final paper on Sado-Masochism (take that, 50 Shades of Grey!) I bombed Statistics. I never took a single Economics course. Were we to have enrolled in college during a more serious time, I’m sure we would have been more choosy about our classes. But we didn’t know any better and we did what felt right at the time. Damn, now that I think about it: I can’t believe I got into grad school with Human Sexuality listed on my transcripts.

But one thing that maybe is an advantage is that we lived and experienced college without the weight of the world on us. I went to more frat parties than I care to admit. I went to my fair share of raves too– like the ones where you called a special phone number on the night of the rave to get directions kinda like that one episode of Beverly Hills 90210. We dressed in track pants and tank tops with neon jewelry and wore our hair in braids. That stuff was real, you guys. It actually happened.

I was lucky in that I did quite a lot of traveling in my youth. Travel was so much cheaper back then– it was before the 9/11 instituted taxes so you could find roundtrip tickets to Europe for $500 (I’M NOT KIDDING). Travel is so different now with so many areas in conflict and experiencing severe economic hardship. I feel lucky that I crammed that all in before the world became such a more scary and hostile place. There’s also a threshold for handling certain aspects of travel when you are young and poor. We lived out of backpacks, took night trains and stayed in $7/night fleabag hotels. We lived on $5 a day. In Morocco, we lived off 10 cent bread. (In Morocco, I also kind of fell off a cliff. Ok, maybe not a cliff. Just the side of a hill. I’ll talk about that at a later point, perhaps.) We were young and curious and so happy to experience the many flavors of life. It was a really fun time.

Music was different back then too. The Tupac and Biggie war had reached its tragic culmination a year before I started college. So the music du jour during college was all Tupac, all the time. So when I hear Tupac (and when I saw that hologram that they did at Coachella this year)– it really takes me back. It means something b/c it meant something during that phase of my life. Here in the Bay Area, the radio station Alice 97.3 had just launched when I started college and the music that they played during those days always does something to trip my emotions. Duncan Sheik’s “Barely Breathing” is the anthem to my college years. When I hear that song, it makes me happy but also so sad b/c it reminds me of that time of innocence. Same with old school Fiona Apple: Criminal, Shadow Boxer… We went to Lilith Fair religiously (I went to two out of three of the concerts.) I recently had a former coworker point out that today’s generation is kinda effed because they’re getting cheated out of iconic music as a reference point for their youth. Whereas I can say: in high school, we listened to Nirvana and Weezer and Tupac, today’s kids have shit like Justin Bieber and uberproduced, autotuned crap as a snapshot of their youth. It’s sad.

I don’t know that I really have a point to this post. I think I just still ruminate a lot on how my life would have turned out– what paths I would have taken, choices I would have made– had I grown up and gone to college at a different time. Instead of being carefree, what if I knew what I needed to do, majored in something important, fought for the internships and jobs that would have served as a better start to my career– where would I be today? And part of me feels sad that life changed so much right as my friends and I entered the working world: it was a jolt and one that caught a lot of us off guard. What if life could be at a slower pace like it was back then? Man, they were good years. Good years that today’s generations will never get to experience. But good years that I hold pretty deeply within my heart.





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