It was the spring semester of 2000 at Berkeley.
My grandpa had just passed away, and he was the first close family member I had lost.
I was in a funk, and didn’t know how to grieve or process my emotions. The only plan I came up with at the time was to “not give a fuck,” and I began to ditch class all semester. Of the 40+ lectures to attend, I only went to three of them: one was for a midterm, the other was for the first day of class. I ended up going to the final, and with such limited participation, I still managed a B+ (mostly out of sheer luck).
I was absent so often that it got to the point where I bowled an average of 175, because Tuesdays were “dollar a game” days at Albany Bowl, and that was a great activity to get my mind off my depression.
Because I had missed so many classes, I thought it would be good strategy to attend the final review class, held by the teacher’s assistant in the evening.
The lecture hall had over 400 students, the room was stuffy, and people just wanted to get their questions answered so they could head back to the library to study. Tension was high as it was finals week at one of the best universities in the nation, and no one appreciated “dumb questions.” There was an air of “go figure out what you don’t understand on your own time.”
I was completely lost, as everything the TA covered on the blackboard was foreign to me. I felt like I was screwed. I had a bad feeling about this final, all of a sudden. Little did I know how quickly the odds would change in my favor.
A very attractive Caucasian blonde girl spoke up, in a pre-teen voice. She was very demanding, and each one of her questions cut right to the chase. But the questions she asked were deemed as “dumb” by the crowd. She asked very basic questions, and it was clear she didn’t know even the basics and needed to review calculus and other prerequisite classes in order to understand the material for this class. She kept raising her hand, and blurting out questions, and I quickly noticed there were two sets of people and two respective reactions from the division she was creating in the lecture hall.
The majority of the attendees were on top of their studies, and found her questions to be a complete waste of time. One of the students even yelled “Go back to freshman year and review your shit if you are going to ask these questions!” to which many students applauded afterwards. I felt so bad for her upon hearing that, and I noticed she didn’t even flinch.
She didn’t care. She kept going like a Sherman Tank.
Moreover, what caught my attention was the second group of people. In this minority group, many people were actually relieved she was willing to put her head and reputation on the chopping block, to take all the criticism, and ask questions that they were afraid to do so themselves.
I belonged to this second group.
And was I grateful to see her ask the questions she did! With each question she asked, 90% of the room groaned, and I, conversely, took notes feverishly as I was getting a summary of the entire semester in a matter of minutes. I lucked out.
When the review session came to an end, people glared at her and walked out in anger and frustration. I walked right by her as I was leaving and I was so drawn to her.
I wanted to talk to her. I wanted to be friends. I wanted to hook up with her. I wanted to thank her, and above all else, I respected her courage to speak up. She needed something, and wasn’t afraid to ask for it. She held the courage and power to ask for what she needed, something I hadn’t ever done and still wasn’t willing to do at that time in my life. She had elements of wisdom that I desperately needed for myself.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized I didn’t like her, or want to fuck her or contact her for the reasons I thought. I simply loved and respected how she took power with no hesitancy and no insecurity.
And why wouldn’t I be mesmerized by her courage?
To this day I wonder what she is doing. Has she made it to the top of some executive firm or started her business because she was such a headstrong, confident woman? Does she now embody a percentage of women captured by the statistics of average student scores succeeding as millionaires? What else has her courage gotten her in otherwise unfavorable circumstances?
And those questions beg me to ask myself a few questions of my own. How far have I come by taking the courageous steps to be myself? What have my milestones been in the past 2 years? Have there been minority groups at lectures that I’ve given that felt inspired because I was able to speak my mind despite the odds and consequences of speaking my mind?
All very interesting questions to ponder as I continue my journey of learning.