Lest you believe that campus life is all play and fun, let me start by pointing out that study work at Berkeley generally is hard and demanding. In my days, the academic year consisted of three “quarters” of 10 weeks each. In each quarter you had to enrol in, and study in parallel, at least three classes à three lectures per week. In week 5 there were mid-term exams WITHOUT ANY PRIOR STUDY RECESS. In fact, exams were given the day after the last lecture and questions asked also on that lecture’s content. This forced the students to start learning from day one and never let go. For the final exams, a grace period of three days was granted for preparations. You had to achieve a minimum grading in all three classes. If you failed in one of them, you were already at risk of being thrown out of College and forced to descend to an institute of lesser distinction.
Since I was a visiting graduate student, I did not have to strictly observe the rule of three parallel lectures, but abided by the regime nonetheless, for my own sake. I can safely say that I learned more in that one year than in all my other 15 years of graduate studies! The intensive stuffing with three concurrent themes did wonders to my brain capacity and I learned for the first time in my life what it means to have a disciplined study plan.
There was no 8 hours’ day to speak of for the students. The main student libraries were open long into the night and always full. I could observe students literally collapsing over their books, suddenly waking up half an hour or so later and forcefully continuing their stuffing as if nothing had happened; this until the small hours and still having to make it to the next lecture at, possibly, nine o’clock in the morning.
As spring arrives and the sun is starting to warm up the campus towards the evenings, the bent up energy of the students, having to remain fixed to their chairs far too long, tends to erupt into joyful playing, in particular on Friday evenings, with a weekend beckoning. This I was lucky to witness on some occasions during the first weeks of April. A major part of the action takes place on Memorial Glade, as well as in the area around Sather Gate.
Let me start by presenting to you the nice young lady on the cover picture, Catherine, whom I met late on a Friday afternoon, whilst entering campus from the North. She had invented a rather sophisticated game all of her own. As she explained it to me, the aim was to get the table she was sitting at from North Gate to Sather Gate. Every time someone signed her “petition”, placed on an immense parchment roll, the table would be moved one meter, or so, southward. I of course signed my name immediately, whereupon she moved the table so quickly that I could not manage to take a picture. When asking her to move it again, she said “not without another signature, otherwise IT WOULD BE CHEATING”; so I had to sign again. All this was done with obvious glee and we both had a marvellous time during the conversation. For me, Catherine represents the quintessence of intelligent campus playfulness. If your read this, Catherine, please let us know how long it took you to arrive at Sather Gate.
Continuing at a quicker pace than hers, but along the same trajectory, I soon arrived at a wonderful vista, with the outstretched greenery of Memorial Glade spread out before me, bordered by two of the most beautiful buildings on campus, the University Library and the Campanile, all bathed in the glorious warmth of late evening sunlight. The library, in particular, stroked my fancy in this flattering light, reminding me about the Pallas Athena temple on Parthenon.
Far down on the glade I glimpsed a couple running around as if playing football. It turned out that they were not the only ones chasing the ball; there was strong competition from a dog, who had misunderstood the nature of the game. But this delighted the youngsters even more and a merry chase could be observed all over the glade.
At a later April Friday I was out somewhat earlier and found the glade yet more full of pouncing students. A small group of more mature youngsters, some of them already engaged as teachers, were engaged in a charming game they called “playing hacky sack”, a bit like European football with a small ball they balanced between them. It would tire you to hear about all the other games having been played at the glade that day but I feel obliged to emphasize that the reclining young man, in the picture that follows, assured me he was smoking tobacco.
To sum up, if you approach the Berkeley Campus at the right time of the year, week and hour, you will find it to be one huge outdoor theatre, with a manifold of scenes, all being occupied by enthusiastic and creative performers, to the observer’s delight.