Finding my team at UC Berkeley

Leah Romm_online

A little over a year ago, I found myself headed to Oakland in the backseat of my first Uber ride. Earlier that day, one of my dearest friends had noticed my gloomy demeanor — fueled by the anxiety of awaiting my LSAT score — and proposed that we take a trip to Fentons Creamery. After a much-needed sundae, we returned to my apartment and watched the very last episode of one of our favorite shows: “Parks and Recreation.” Toward the end of the episode, the main character (and a role model of mine), Leslie Knope, gives a commencement speech encouraging new graduates to “go find your team and get to work!”

I met the friend I watched this episode with when she joined the Student Advocate’s Office in September 2013, half a year after I did. In fact, through the Student Advocate’s Office, I met my team: the most intelligent, hilarious and caring individuals, people with whom I could debate constitutional matters, quote “The West Wing” or even get pancakes and chocolate milk on a Tuesday night.

These are people who help hundreds of students sort out their disputes with the university every year. These are people who, just this year, secured grant money to alleviate medical costs for survivors of sexual assault, provided a much-needed voice as campus information systems drastically change and found housing for students who would otherwise have spent their winter breaks without a roof over their heads. These are people who care deeply, even profoundly, about the wellbeing of others on this campus — and, equally, about the wellbeing of one another.

In her speech, Leslie quotes Teddy Roosevelt, who once noted that “the best prize that life has to offer is a chance to work hard at work worth doing” and adds that “what makes work worth doing is getting to do it with people that you love.” The members of the Student Advocate’s Office became those people for me. Without them, I would never have felt empowered in my work with campus partners, I would never have had the courage to dissent in a room full of administrators and I would not have had the breadth or depth of knowledge to think and act quickly in critical moments. Most importantly, these are people who have brought fresh ideas and pursuits to the table, even when I felt like our options had been exhausted.

Given how incredibly large UC Berkeley is, it is important to note how lucky we are to come across the individuals that play key roles in our lives. It was unlikely enough that I would come to Berkeley, given the tens of thousands of students I was competing with for my spot. And to not only come here but to also find the most special and unique friends and colleagues, when they could have joined any other organization or even gone to any other school, feels almost too good to be true. We could easily have never crossed paths, and yet we did, despite how slim the odds were.

Whatever it may be, I am eternally grateful that chance, luck or just plain old statistics helped me find my home and my family in the Student Advocate’s Office. Whether someone was mentoring me through my first case, preparing me for a difficult meeting, helping me apply for summer internships or simply sharing a funny joke on our beloved blue couch, every individual I met during my years in the office affected my life. Leslie’s addendum resonates deeply with me: The work I have done over the past years has been especially meaningful because of the team I had supporting me.

Every spring, there is a sense of nostalgia and even a hint of sadness in the office as the graduates gear up to leave and begin their next adventures. I was certainly nervous around this time last year, when the individuals I most looked up to were on their way out. Oddly enough, I felt the same unease last fall when our office moved out of Hearst Gym and into the new Eshleman building. (The fact that we had to say goodbye to our wonderful couch made the transition all the more difficult.) We were entering a new space and a new era — we would have to make a new home.

Even with the seniors gone and a new batch of caseworkers to train, we maintained a tight-knit community. With a new place to get adjusted to, we maintained our welcoming presence in the ASUC. And with new challenges facing the university — from budget cuts to information systems changes — we continued to serve our fellow students. What I learned then, through both our spatial transition and my own adjustment to a new leadership position, was that change, whether big or small, is essential to robust and fulfilling growth.

More importantly, I realized that despite the newness all around me, my home had never changed because it was never a place. My home was not in Hearst Gym or Eshleman Hall. My home was the people I grew to admire throughout the years.

The office has grown to love a new couch now, and another batch of seniors are on our way out, too. But there is nothing to worry about. Whatever changes lie ahead, I know the office will always adjust and react with grace and innovation, keeping students’ interests at the forefront. I know that no matter what new challenges the next years bring, this group of individuals will thrive precisely because they have one another. This office has offered me a chance to work hard at work worth doing, but, more importantly, it has let me do so with people I love. I may be on my way out, but simply by virtue of knowing this handful of inimitable people, I will always have a home in the Student Advocate’s Office.

Leah Romm was the 2015-16 student advocate. She is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English and a minor in human rights.