I have worked with students in higher education for about a decade, and have been moved and shaped by many of them. They’ve made me laugh, expanded my heart, challenged me, and taught me new ways of thinking and doing with their fresh and diverse perspectives.
One student I met this past academic year has done all of the above and more. He has truly taught me how to live a fuller, more joyful life.
Claudio Berther came to I-House and Cal to study law as a Fulbright scholar. He is from Switzerland, he enjoys being outdoors in the sun, he loves a good slice of Artichoke Basille’s pizza and Swiss chocolates, he has the best sense of humor (more on this below), and he uses a wheelchair. While the fact that Claudio uses a wheelchair does not define him, it does provide important context: Claudio showed me that while he may have a physical limitation, he is limitless in all other ways.
Over the past year, I have come to better understand Claudio’s approach to life. The following are some of the invaluable life lessons I have learned from Claudio — not because he has articulated these as his guidelines, but because I’ve had the privilege to watch him put these philosophies into practice.
Laugh often and laugh hard.
This does not simply include my silly dad jokes, though I appreciate that he laughs at them! I once was “driving” Claudio in his wheelchair when we hit a bump and he almost flew out of his chair. Immediately, I felt my heart race and my face flush as I sputtered apology after apology. How did Claudio respond? With a big grin on his face: “Oh, me falling out? That’s just a minor detail!” Time and time again, I saw Claudio find humor in life’s challenges in this way.
Challenges are a normal part of life, so welcome and embrace them.
Like all of us, Claudio deals with his share of challenges and tribulations. Unlike most of us, however, Claudio navigates life’s difficulties in a remarkable way. Rather than let any challenge bring him down, Claudio sees them as a way to keep life interesting. As he often says, “What a dull, ordinary day it would be otherwise. We can’t have that.”
Ignore the naysayers.
In my first conversation with Claudio, he told me that if he listened to everyone who doubted him, he would never be at Cal on a Fulbright scholarship. When I would write something off, he would opt to persevere instead. He takes whatever negative assumption is thrown his way, turns it on its head, and accomplishes his goals. And, he is never smug about it.
During his year at Cal, Claudio made the most of every opportunity that appealed to him. He talked about how much he enjoyed getting to study with some of the best legal practitioners in the country, but he placed an equal value on life experiences, friendships, and out-of-the-classroom learning. He was at the New Resident Retreat right at the start of the year, endured hours of interview time with me for our I-House podcast episode, he was at possibly every Coffee Hour and Sunday Supper, and at most I-House activities or programs — even the virtual ones. While I am a loyal Stanford Cardinal fan, nothing could beat watching the joy on Claudio’s face when he witnessed Cal beating Stanford on the football field.
Whether you believe it or not, Claudio is a mere mortal. I’ve checked a few times to be sure! He occasionally gets stressed and frustrated — but he unfailingly bounces back from every setback in a way that inspires me to reconsider my own attitude and approach to challenges.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you, Claudio, for teaching me and everyone around you how to live life well by example. I will always admire your grit and grace. We are better because we know you. Here’s to you, my dear, dear friend!