It’s 11 p.m. on a Sunday night in July, and there’s an unusual amount of activity at a nondescript restaurant in San Francisco’s otherwise dead-quiet financial district.
The place is packed with socialites, congregating around the warm brick and rustic open bar. On the other side, porchetta roasts in a wood-burning oven, the salty smokiness on everyone’s lips. The spread is magnificent: ricotta-stuffed, deep-fried squash blossoms, handmade pastas drenched in butter, thin pizzas with freshly shaved truffles.
With a small plate of goodies in one hand and a glass of Pinot Noir in the other, I am feeling pretty fucking good.
I take in the sights.
There’s Cecilia Chiang, the woman who first brought Chinese food to California. And there’s Thomas Keller, arguably the best chef in America and owner of arguably the best restaurant in America, The French Laundry. And of course, there’s Michael Bauer, The San Francisco Chronicle’s food critic and nationally revered. And did he just walk in with Tyler Florence’s wife?
I should be very used to seeing Michael, as I had seen him countless times as The Chronicle’s Food & Wine intern. But still, in this setting, he is clearly a star.
I huddle in a group of Food & Wine staff, gossiping about who is who and trying to blend in. Then the writer whom I share a cubicle with says something brilliant.
“Just when I think I’ve really made it, I see half the room is younger than me.”
We look around. Yep. The vast majority of the socialites appear to be in their mid-20s. I take comfort knowing that it’s highly unlikely anyone else is a fresh 21, like me.
There were a few exclusive events this summer where I felt as falsely important. A media pass can do wonders for a girl’s self-esteem.
At my final moment of exclusivity – a launch party of Top Chef Desserts winner Yigit Pura’s patisserie, while I cut into a passionfruit-yuzu tart and received yet another glass of champagne – I was saddened to think that I will probably never eat this well again. My life may never be this swell again!
But that’s a silly thing to think at this age. I frequently forget how young I am — how young we all are as college students. Twenty-one is nothing. Yet, in just three years at UC Davis, I’ve managed to accomplish far more than I ever would have expected.
When I moved into the Segundo dorms three years ago, I was pretty insecure. I hardly partied at all during Welcome Week, too frightened of potentially belligerent social interaction. I stalked the people I wanted to befriend, and then, shockingly, actually befriended them. My long-term goals were probably to graduate on time, spend some time abroad – a quarter, or something – and be an editor at The California Aggie by my senior year.
I clinched that first editor gig by the end of the first year. I’m set to graduate on time, even with going abroad for a summer and a full year. I had crazy adventures in Europe – couchsurfing, hitchhiking and farming – that I could have never imagined myself originally doing, but now can’t imagine not doing them. And I had internships. Multiple internships, including my dream internship at The San Francisco Chronicle. Now I’m embarking on the challenge of a lifetime: running this campus newspaper as editor in chief.
There have been a lot of questions lately as to the value of a college education. Students are dropping out all the time because they can’t afford these horrifying prices, and others because they’re disenfranchised by the whole institution.
It’s true — what you learn in the classroom may not be worth those tuition fees. But going to college, going to a top-tier university like UC Davis, can do so much for you. There are tons of resources, endless opportunities.
But, only if you choose to give a shit.
I would not be where I am now if I decided to work at the ASUCD Coffee House — a “normal” job — instead of slaving as an unpaid writer for eternity. As cliché as it sounds, these sacrifices do pay off.
So, UC Davis class of 2016! Congratulations on getting into this fine university. Your parents must be proud. Hell, I’m proud. Now, please, don’t waste it.
JANELLE BITKER has one idea for you: Apply to work at The Aggie! Request instruction at firstname.lastname@example.org.