Humans of Berkeley English
Each month, the EUA profiles on an undergraduate student in the English major in our “Humans of Berkeley English” series. You can check out previous profiles on The Wheeler Colum, including Alison Lafferty, Megan Breazeale, Tia Chen-Wong, Liam Spires, Michael Jeong, and Taylor Follett. If you are interested in being profiled yourself, please fill out this form.
April 2018: Meet Selden Cummings!
Hi, my name is Selden Cummings and I’m a junior at UC Berkeley. I’m an English major, and like many of my peers, I enjoy writing, reading, and disagreeing over the meaning of ancient poems. I’m also a musician. I play acoustic guitar and I rap. My stage name is Tommy Luck.
I chose English as a major because there is nothing as entertaining or intellectually stimulating as reading a good book. Being an English major has taught me to view the world in terms of stories, and it is also helped me learn to think critically. My experience with Berkeley’s English Dept. has been amazing. To come into contact on a daily basis with dozens of people who find Emily Dickinson as fascinating as I do is really a dream come true. Oh man, it’s hard to pick a favorite class. So far, I guess I’d say what I just said: Emily Dickinson, taught by John Shoptaw. It’s incredible to be able to spend an entire semester studying the work of a single poet, and Shoptaw does a fantastic job of guiding us into making our own interpretations of the poems, without forcing an interpretation upon us. I’ve also really enjoyed The English Novel with Kent Puckett, who is a brilliantly clear lecturer. The EUA really helped me settle into Berkeley English life, especially during my first semester. In fact, my main advice for new English majors would be to pay attention to all the EUA emails, and to go to their events!!
March 2018: Meet Sydney Gunther!
This December, after five and a half years of college, I finally graduated from Berkeley, with B.A.s in both English and math.
Six of those eleven semesters took place at Cabrillo College, my local community college. I did love Cabrillo, and I could have kept taking classes there forever, but that’s not why I stayed an extra year in addition to the two required to transfer—nor was it because I was lacking in units. I stayed because I still hadn’t decided what to major in. I already knew I loved math (yes, it’s possible to love math) and I loved English, but I wanted to be sure they were right.
It didn’t surprise me that I didn’t have the epiphany I was hoping for during that extra year—at the end of those two semesters, I still had doubts about what to study. But I felt it was time to move on with my life, so I went for it—I transferred to Berkeley and committed to taking about 8 units each of math and English classes for the next two and a half years.
Studying math at Berkeley was an adventure in itself, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about, so I’ll stick to English. I’d naïvely assumed English would be the easier of my two majors (in fact both majors were hugely challenging but in different ways), but I soon learned that the word “easy” belongs nowhere near Berkeley. I came in thinking that, although I thoroughly disliked writing essays, at least I was good at it; after getting grades back on a couple, however, I realized I wasn’t that good after all, and (needless to say) that didn’t make them any more fun.
Struggling through my assignments, though, didn’t stop me from loving the major itself. I loved sitting in lecture and listening to brilliant professors say brilliant things. I loved having to read things I wouldn’t have otherwise thought to read (transcripts from the Salem witch trials in Donegan’s English 166AC); being guided through works I never would have understood on my own (Ulysses in Flynn’s 126); studying books I already knew and loved (Pride and Prejudice in Blanton’s 45B); even critically analyzing pop culture (Beyoncé’s Lemonade in Ellis’s 31AC). I loved meeting fellow English nerds in class and at EUA events and realizing that we were all experiencing the same struggles (“I love this book but I have so much else to do that there’s no way I’ll finish it in time,” “I wish I could go to that poetry reading but it’s at the same time as my discussion section,” “I have to write two papers this weekend and I haven’t had time to start them yet”). I loved attending the Berkeley Connect book club/EUA Reads and hearing others’ thoughts about books and stories and poems without having to worry about close reading and participation grades. I loved taking the UC Hogwarts DeCal and finding friends in my classmates—sweet, intelligent, fun folks who love Harry Potter as much as I do.
And even the essays—in the end, they weren’t all bad. Somewhere in there, I did start to improve—all those office hours, and all that constructive criticism, and maybe also just breathing in Berkeley’s intellectual atmosphere, eventually added up to me becoming a better writer. It was still challenging, and my grades still fluctuated some, but by my last semester or two writing essays was no longer drudgery. Sometimes, when I wasn’t thinking too hard about deadlines or math midterms, I daresay I actually enjoyed writing them.
Now I’m two months out of college and it’s no surprise that I still don’t know what to do next. Maybe part of me is still waiting for that elusive stroke of inspiration. But I know that it won’t be long before I tell myself to get on with my life and do something and that it’ll be the right choice somehow, just like majoring in English was. I mean, yeah, I admit it’s unlikely that I’ll end up with a career in the literary analysis essay industry (ha ha ha). But whether I’m reading books or reading the world (something we should all be better at), I’ll always have what I learned in Berkeley English.
February 2018: Meet Kiran Sahota!
My name is Kiran Bains Sahota and I am a Junior Transfer in my second semester at Cal! I’m originally from Yuba City, Ca but graduated from Folsom Lake College with two AA’s and the opportunity to come to my dream school. I feel so blessed to be able to pursue my love for English as not just a degree but a celebrated passion at one of the top universities in the world!
The EUA has been absolutely incredible in keeping me updated with the goings-on not just at Wheeler, but of opportunities that are nation-wide! Because of the weekly e-mails and campus events, I’ve learned a great deal about the publishing process, graduate school and have discovered new authors through the readings presented. One of the best opportunities I took advantage of was applying for and successfully gaining a position as a staff-writer for College Magazine. Study abroad programs for English students are huge possibilities for students I wouldn’t have known to uncover had the EUA not been so proactive about informing students! Thanks to them, I will be studying at Oxford University in the summer! I’m ultimately really grateful for how proactive, kind, and informative the EUA and its impassioned members and faculty are.
My love of English? That was inherent. I didn’t understand just how passionate I was about English until I realized writing had been a partner of healing, creativity and passion for me since my first journal at age four. Writing has always been there with me–as a part of me–and to be able to live this one shot at life by taking advantage of my unconditional appreciation for language and story-telling has transformed my life. Words of romantic aspirations and vivid imagery exemplified in works by authors like William Wordsworth, Kate Chopin, and Lewis Carol have really impacted the meaning I want to depict in my own prose and poetry. Such works even inspired me to create my own website SunsetDahlia.com, in order to expose truths of the human condition through personal experiences and revelations. My greatest dream is to become a novelist, and I trust that even a small-town girl with brown skin and bright eyes has the passion to ignite change simply with the belief of her dreams and the will of her heart. Thankfully, Cal and the EUA have jumpstarted me on the right track of success and knowledge!
November 2017: Meet Bailey Vega!
My name is Bailey Vega, and this is my first semester at Cal! I’m a transfer student from Taft, California, a very small city at the southern edge of the Central Valley. I attended Taft College for two years before receiving an AA degree in English and I am thrilled to continue my studies as an English major here at UC Berkeley!
My experience with Berkeley’s English Department has been so wonderful! When I arrived here, I knew the program was renowned and that I was in for an incredible experience, but I was also a little bit intimidated—part of me worried that at such a large university, professor and student interactions might not be quite as accessible as they were at my tight-knit high school and community college. To my delight, these concerns quickly dissolved. My professors are as brilliant and passionate as I expected, and they’re also so kind, amiable, and genuinely enthusiastic about interacting with their students. Each lecture presents illuminating interpretations and analyses that are simultaneously comprehensible and complexly insightful. Outside of class, I’ve spoken with and observed professors who go out of their way to have conversations with students they recognize from their large classes and students they’ve never met before. My GSIs and Berkeley Connect mentor are also keenly intelligent and dedicated to the success of their students. Listening to my fellow students voice their incisive thoughts in discussions has enriched my experience as well. I love being surrounded by so many people who, like me, seem to undergo a unique kind of adrenaline rush when thinking about literature. Through Berkeley Connect, I have had such engaging conversations with my peers, and I’ve found all the events to be community-building, helpful, and intriguing.
I think the EUA is a marvelous organization, and it’s something that has made me feel so welcome as a transfer student at Berkeley. During orientation week, I attended a panel hosted by members on the board, where each person shared their insights, tips, and honest experiences. Afterwards, a couple of members took a group of students to visit Moe’s Books—an exciting and memorable first experience that allowed me to explore a part of Berkeley’s culture I had been looking forward to. I was so grateful to find that the EUA was so willing to share their favorite literary aspects of life in Berkeley with new students and so eager to help acquaint us with our new environment. I’ve had so much fun attending the various events the EUA puts on, and it has also fostered a sense of community for me as I’ve been able to meet new students, engage more with my classmates, and chat with professors in a really fun setting. Even just being on the email list has been so beneficial as I’m continually made aware of the numerous opportunities available to undergraduates. I really admire that the EUA—made up of students who have just as much reading and writing to get done as everyone else—puts so much effort into helping English majors and creating an immersive academic experience for us.