A poem written and performed by José L. Rodríguez Nodal, a long-time staff member with deep family ties to UC Berkeley, for the university’s 150th birthday on March 23, 2018
On this land where Ohlone worshipped, a spot of sun zigzags,
Lighting path ahead, flickering light-shadow- light hopscotching
Veneer of centuries. Around the bend, Strawberry Creek.
I walk among gnarled live oak: sacred rhythms before this was Berkeley.
At this edge of North America of restless, shifting landscapes,
Seismic rumbling magnifies movement, guaranteeing certain change:
The pulse of discovery, rediscovery.
An electricity of surprise in the air and underfoot.
We are riding on tectonic plates, yet drawn to this one place.
We are all Berkeley, each a radiant source — struggles,
Fragile balances steadied, inherited — testifying to brilliance.
Attached to this mythical home, we find a way to return.
The oxygen is permeated here with
The audacity of the first 12 students;
The first women to enroll;
The first Black tenured professor;
The Dreamer who today defies barriers,
Blazing forth beyond the point of good wishes;
The scholar daring to explain elemental,
Hidden truths of consciousness, action,
Genetic essence, cosmic destiny;
The alumna who remembers, continually
Revisiting the meaning of having been here,
Returning — present today.
Berkeley also called my father. Unemployed, he came.
Wearing janitor garb, one day he took me
Age 11, circa 1973, on a campus tour of Frisbees,
Long-hair flowing, marihuana-scented air —
Proudly pointing out library, Campanile and its beacon,
Embracing it like a promise, somewhere between sacrifice and hope.
His beloved Universidad de California en Berkeley.
In this ecosystem, he taught me,
Berkeley is also the one who cleans the labs
While the teacher unpacks the systemic issues
And the student stretches her budget, fulfilling a dream.
Four decades later here again, I hear his footsteps next to me
Among eucalyptus, whistling canopy, oak trees,
The flagstone path near VLSB.
For they who paved the way, let us ask:
What have we built here?
How have we transformed its power?
Does its radiance spread equally — how far?
How can we advance its promise?
We must never stop asking, never stop testing
The proof of the founding Charter.
In this passage 150 years is a split second
Around the bend of Strawberry Creek.
At this place, that is luminous.
Let there be light.
Let there be.