Faces of Berkeley: Jonah Markowitz has been attending the same class at UC Berkeley for 20 years

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Every semester, Political Science 179, a guest speaker colloquium class, attracts new students across every major — but among the crowd, there is one veteran student who is all too familiar with the class.

Jonah Markowitz has been attending this class for 20 years since 1997, and he doesn’t plan to stop. Each week, a guest speaker is invited to talk about their work and answer questions from students. Every semester follows a certain theme, and the class is now focused on the upcoming 2018 election.

The Berkeley native graduated from UC Berkeley in 1989 with a double major in mass communications, now known as media studies, and political science, but he didn’t enroll in the class until eight years after he graduated.

Markowitz, who is legally blind, was the first student with a disability to graduate from Albany High School. When he arrived at UC Berkeley, he participated in dorm life and was involved with the Residence Hall Association on campus. After briefly attending the UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare, he settled down in Berkeley and has been in the area ever since.

Lecturer Alan Ross has led the class for 37 years since it began in 1981. Markowitz said he and Ross have become friends over the 20 years they have known one another.

“(Ross) and I are good friends, and as I said, this class has a lot of different points of view in it, especially by the speakers,” Markowitz said.

Markowitz paid tuition for and officially enrolled in the class until spring 2016 — as a student on the roster, he took the final every semester. Ross recalled Markowitz being at the top of the class every semester he was enrolled in it. A representative from the Disabled Students’ Program used to take notes and read them to him, and Markowitz credits his “good memory” as the reason why this class is right for him.

When asked about his interest in the class, he mentioned he has always had an interest in social issues.

“Speakers have changed but class hasn’t,” Markowitz said. “To be honest, I’ve never had a career, but I’ve always been interested in this stuff.”

Markowitz recalled a number of speakers he enjoyed, from esteemed campus public policy professor Robert Reich to Marc Klaas, father of murder victim Polly Klaas, but his favorite speaker is Charles Wiley, a veteran international reporter. Markowitz said he has developed a friendship with Wiley, who returns annually to PS 179, adding that he sends Wiley a birthday present every year.

Markowitz attributes his continued attendance to the diversity of speakers and coverage of current events.

“Whether you’re disabled or not, this class keeps you involved in social and electoral issues,” said Markowitz. “It provides you with great opportunities if you’re interested, and everyone should take it if they can.”

Contact Janani Natarajan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @jrnatarajan.