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Cal Culture

“When I Was at UC Berkeley…”

From playing “Asteroids” on rooftops to frequent visits to Top Dog, alumni demonstrate the diversity and uniqueness of each Cal experience.

August 25, 2023
by Alejandra Granados Dominguez
Sather Gate seen through pink flowers. Sather Gate / UC Regents

We asked UC Berkeley alumni to share stories, facts, or memories from their time as students. We welcome you to reminisce about your experiences and to reflect on the mark UC Berkeley has left on you. Here are some of the responses we received.

“I remember understanding what everyone meant about the faculty. They’re welcoming, friendly, always happy to talk, and the reason I got through Cal. 

“Cal was not easy, but for me, it became a bit easier when I took a social theory course within my department and with my professor, Dr. Fang Xu, and my GSI, Casey D. It became one of the most memorable and, honestly, fun, classes I took at Cal. Yes, writing papers on Marx was difficult, and I wasn’t always a fan of the readings, but going to my professor or GSI’s office hours just made everything fit. They not only allowed me to come to my own understanding and helped clarify points of discussion, but we’d also end up discussing everything from current events to housing prices to sports equality. They were a rock of stability when COVID impacted everyone on campus and life seemed to freeze. My 8 a.m. discussions and, albeit, mentally challenging lectures were something I looked forward to—admittedly, often from the comfort of my bed). I still had that one class  with these two special mentors where I could not only grow my mind but also ease it and let it run wild on tangents when needed be, whether over coffee or at a desk.” —Anonymous ’21

“My very first memory of Cal was at age five. My soon-to-be uncle played football, and I remember watching him play, chanting ‘roll on you bears,’ and touring Doe Library. When I was at Berkeley, I’d walk to Cheese Board, read on Memorial Glade, study at Strada. I love Cal with all my heart. ROLL ON YOU BEARS!” —Heather ’08 

Various students lay on the grassy field of Memorial Glade.
Memorial Glade’s grassy and peaceful nature has become a spot where generations of students gather to make memories. / Bonnie Azab Powell / UC Regents

“There was no Google! We had to go to the library and read!” —Kristen ’92

“We started a women’s liberation group at the UC School of Public Health and called out professors and others when they put down women. We were invited to a meeting by the Law and Engineering Schools to give input on how to attract more women students. We pointed out that more women faculty should be hired as a starter.” —Margot ’77

“My friend and classmate, Byron ’76, and I were walking across Sproul Plaza late one night/early morning heading to the Undergraduate Library. We were stopped by the campus police with their guns drawn. We were on our way from the burger joint off Telegraph Avenue to study for a big exam the next day. We were laughing and joking quite loudly as we casually sauntered toward the direction of the library. I didn’t realize the police had their guns drawn because my back may have been slightly turned to them. I said to Byron that this is nonsense for them to stop us and told him that I was going to put my hands down. Byron cautioned me they had their guns drawn. Finally, after a bit of questioning, albeit at a distance, the police felt we were a safe bet and came over to us to explain that they were looking for some robbers, and we fit the description of perpetrators of a robbery in the area. We’re still amazed how they could have thought that as we were holding our book bags and acting like normal students going about our business at Cal. Now, as I reflect again on this incident, I am grateful that it all turned out well for us. I still find the experience incredulous. I see now in this day and age that could have not turned out to be an innocuous encounter between two young black male students trying to get an education.” —John ’76

“On my way to class one morning, I saw a crowd of students weaving through Sproul Plaza. Curious, I went to see what was happening and then I understood. They were following the Naked Guy in his usual attire (or lack thereof).” —Anonymous ’83

“The Free Speech Movement and anti-war protests were in full gear, and Nixon as President was often hung in effigy. Yet Cal in the Capital managed to place over 70 Cal students in internship positions in Washington DC, including 5 positions at the White House for 1968–69. Cal in the Capital co-directors Lynn Grossman and Doug Engmann were able to convince the Nixon administration to create a permanent “Executive Intern Program” for college students at cabinet level positions.” —Doug ’69

A crowd of students can be seen walking through Sather Gate.
The intersecting point of different places on campus, Sproul Plaza is a hub of student activity that many alumni share stories about. / Irene Yi / UC Regents

“My world opened up and the possibilities were endless. The opportunity to learn from the best of the best was so very inspiring. The experience was positively transformative and I will be forever grateful.” —Anonymous ’79

“TI scientific calculators were half the size of a shoebox and $700. [Also,] grad students could play Star Trek battles—remember Asteroids?—at the top of the Architecture building with their MIT rivals on a computer that still used flip switches and took up a whole room.” —Fran ’77

“Cal won the NCAA championship and went to the Rose Bowl. That’s why I’m such a Cal sports fan even at age 85.” —Lester ’60

“I experienced a personal encounter with possible atomic death in October 1962, two months into my freshman year at Cal…. The Russians wanted to install nuclear missiles in Cuba and President Kennedy told them ‘No way!’ by deploying a fleet of U.S. warships to intercept the Russian ships…. I—and millions of other people, including thousands of American college students who were vocal about it—were scared as hell that this situation would end in a nuclear exchange. Being 3,000 miles from the area of such a confrontation was little comfort. I knew that once the shooting started, the missiles carrying nuclear bombs would start flying.

“On the day the Russian ships carrying the missiles to Cuba were expected to encounter the U.S. Navy, I was sitting at my desk in my dorm room, trying to do chemistry homework while listening to minute-to-minute radio updates (no internet back then) of the impending confrontation, which didn’t happen. ‘They’ve turned around!!’ the radio announcer shouted. ‘The Russian ships have turned around!’

“In that instant, I pounded my desktop and screamed ‘Yeah!’ virtually in unison with the cheers of hundreds of relieved Berkeley students in nearby dorms. We were relieved, but changed forever.” —Eric ’66

“The Graduate School of Journalism moved from a multi-story concrete building somewhere on campus to its new home in North Gate Hall. I sublet an apartment across the street and lived on potstickers from a Chinese takeout and Top Dog bratwursts. Good times.” —Alexandra ’83

If you’d like to share your story, contact us or share your memories through this form

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