Anthony Williams is a student at the University of California, Berkeley where he studies sociology and theatre & performance.
During my senior year of high school I found myself kind of stuck.
I was a decent student but didn’t feel particularly talented or gifted at anything. That was until I took my first theatre class. I ended up doing our school musical, The Music Man, this is despite the fact that my voice was far from cute or appealing, and I could barely complete a box step. But, I could act.
After I graduated high school in 2007, I was accepted into a 2-year acting conservatory program at Solano Community College. I attended school during the day and I also worked two part-time jobs.
Between my time at community college, various jobs, and professional theatre, I learned a lot about myself. I wouldn’t have had this opportunity if I immediately entered a four-year college after high school graduation.
Before I actually entered a traditional four-year university, these experiences taught me to appreciate the cost and the time that’s invested in college in a way that I couldn’t as a fresh high school graduate.
I applied to five schools and was accepted to four. I transferred to University of California Berkeley in the fall of 2014, seven years after I initially started my community college journey.
While UC Berkeley has its issues, Cal has been a great fit for me. The Department of Sociology is one of the top in the nation. The school isn’t far from the amazing city of Oakland. And, my intellectual and personal development has been exponentially larger than my “I’ve-worked-so-I-know-things” ego could have ever imagined.
I’m a first-generation Black student who grew up close to my family, and it’s difficult to only see them a few times a semester due to the obligations of school, work, extracurricular activities and an occasional social life.
Money is also a concern. I’ve dealt with economic growing pains as my dad’s insurance stopped covering me when I turned 21-years-old. This meant I had to find a job that provided me with benefits and enough salary to help pay rent at home.
The University of California System is a collection of public schools with financial assistance for those whose families make under $80,000 annually, but given the ridiculous cost of living in California, economic anxiety is a very real reality.
I am fortunate to qualify for financial aid, merit-based scholarships, and [un]fortunately loans, but even so I don’t always eat very well because bills need to get paid. As an older student with a car and a family to help, money and student loan debt is often on my mind.
The biggest thing I notice in myself and other undergrads is a familiar exchange: “How are you?” “Busy, you?” “Same.” This state of “busy-ness” is not a comfortable one, particularly when so many students tie our self-worth to our academic standing.
Being busy means deadlines and deadlines mean that I will get the work done. I usually average about six hours of sleep and while I’m young, my body is starting to feel it. We’re literally being graded on how well we learn, often through measures that don’t accurately test our knowledge.
Add in any intersections—such as being a Black queer man—and that makes heteronormative and historically white spaces like UC Berkeley challenging to navigate. All that being said, my peers and myself are hungry to make things happen.
Kicking it with my friends often becomes a healing space where we laugh and figuratively cry about who Kanye used to be versus who he is now, but where we debrief about problematic political situations and the struggle of being “_____ in America.” We often console each other when we have to mourn the loss of another person we never met but who is now a hashtag.
We also dream and strategize about how much better the world would be if everyone just acknowledged the humanity of others. But there is no revolution without joy, love, or art, so outside of educating each other, making ourselves laugh is definitely a priority with friends.