Parting thoughts: four years, one couch

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I’ve been in denial. Even with graduation a few days away, I have yet to purchase a cap and gown. Even as I write this farewell column, a reality check of sorts, I am dazed that my days as a UC Berkeley student are coming to a bittersweet end. While I am filled with anxiety and excitement regarding my uncertain postgraduation plans, I am overwhelmed by nostalgia, gratitude and pride.

As this year’s student advocate, I have spent more time in the ASUC Student Advocate’s Office than I would like to admit. The office, formerly located in 204 Eshleman Hall and now in 114B Hearst Gym, has been my second home over the last four years, a place I hold dear to my heart. I am proud to say we have done some amazing work, from improving administrative bureaucracies on campus to helping more than 150 students with student conduct charges, financial aid and other academic disputes.

Despite all the challenges, I have nothing but love and respect for the Student Advocate’s Office; it’s taught me that the university is a complex machine with multiple stakeholders, and it’s challenged me to navigate difficult situations with grace.

Yet the office has been more than just a place of work. I will never forget the heart-to-hearts and naps on the office couch, heated debates about the benefits of technology and late-night study sessions that turned into hang-out sessions. I’ve laughed, cried and even danced in the office more times than I can count. 204 Eshleman was my safe space.

Almost two years ago, when Troy Davis was executed by the state of Georgia, I bolted out of the UC Berkeley Amnesty International meeting in Wheeler Hall. As a student activist, I had worked on this particular death penalty case since high school. I was overwhelmed with anger and felt helpless against institutions that perpetuated injustice. Instead of going home, I found myself walking to Eshleman, thinking the office would be empty. When I opened the door, I realized my mistake: The office was bustling with new caseworkers who were being trained.

I snuck into the adjacent private meeting room, only to find my predecessor Samar Shah in the room. He had heard about the decision and offered his condolences. At that point, I gave in to my emotions and broke down in tears. An idealist at heart, I had hoped that there would be another stay of execution. Because of the overwhelming media coverage, I thought some entity would pardon him. I was wrong.

I stayed at the office until 2 a.m. that night talking with a fellow caseworker about everything but the death penalty — dating, school, siblings and coffee. Somehow, the ordinary conversation reminded me that there was more to life than these devastating moments. Troy’s execution was a huge setback, but the battle to end the death penalty was far from over.

Just a few hours in 204 Eshleman left me at ease. The office was full of ordinary and profound moments — it was both an intimate, comforting place where you could cry your heart out but also a fun place where you could gossip and watch the latest viral YouTube videos.

While Cal has challenged me intellectually, I have grown the most by learning from colleagues and friends, all of whom have unique stories to tell. The relationships I have built at Cal will stay with me wherever I go. But what I’ll miss the most is the ability to share mundane, everyday moments on the Student Advocate’s couch.

Stacy Suh served as the student advocate in the 2012-13 academic year.