Berkeley famous

Confessions of a moderator

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As I was heading to my 9 a.m. class, I decided to stop by the Golden Bear café. In a sleepy daze, I picked up a Clif Bar and headed to the cashier, who happened to be a fellow student. When I handed her my Cal 1 Card to pay, she looked it over and raised an eyebrow before scanning it. “You know, looking at your name, I almost thought you were the ‘Overheard Guy,’ ” she said.

I have been recognized in person as the “Overheard Guy” many times, but that was the first time that someone had seen me and thought that I only kind of looked like Spencer Mowdy Hill. It was a pretty funny moment. I was reminded of Tony Hawk’s many tweets in which he describes being almost recognized by TSA agents and the like. “Hawk, like that skateboarder Tony Hawk!”

Of course, I’m not nearly as well-known as Tony Hawk, and I doubt I ever will be. That being said, I have come to terms with the fact that to the UC Berkeley student body, I am probably one of the most well-known students. I’m hesitant to say that I’m famous in general, but I feel safe in saying I’m “Berkeley famous.” To put it lightly, it’s a pretty surreal experience.

For a few semesters now, I have had random people on the street recognize me as the “Overheard Guy” or the “Confessions Guy” pretty regularly. Usually, they shake my hand, but sometimes, they ask me for a picture or even (a few times) an autograph. Often, when I meet people at parties, they ask me questions about running the page. I like to say that I’m a performer at heart, and as a performer, it feels good to talk to people who appreciate my performance – that is to say, my pages. 

It wasn’t always all nice for me, though. When I first started having these encounters, I felt a little embarrassed every time. Each time someone recognized me for my work on the pages, I was forced to reckon with my cultivated status as a public figure. I could have run Confessions as an anonymous figure if I had so chosen; I had made the conscious choice not to do so. I told myself that it was better to be a public figure because it would make me more accountable to the student body, but was that an excuse I was making to hide my own self-centeredness? And was it OK to be openly proud of doing something like running a Facebook page?

As a “Berkeley famous” figure, I was determined to not appear selfish, as I feared it would ruin my reputation as an objective admin. Despite this, in 2018, I received a submission that read “I am so disgusted by the fact that my confessions never get posted, but the ones that compliment Spencer (the admin) always get posted like what the f— stop flattering yourself you are obviously creating content to get yourself more attention.” In all honesty, it really hit way too close to home, though I’ve never actually manufactured self-promotional confessions. 

Since that day I have mostly refused to post Confessions that name me, even though the page posts literally every other compliment about a named person that it receives. Truth be told, almost 1% of all Confessions submissions contain my name, and most will never see the light of day. I just can’t stand seeming like I’m not humble.

Gradually, though, I have warmed to the idea that I don’t have to shame myself into being self-effacing all the time. With every deeply honest submission I receive on Confessions, and every serious campus discussion that starts on Overheard, I feel more and more confident that the work I’m doing is important. If people want to compliment me on that work, it’s really the right thing to do to accept their compliments. If people think my work is meaningful, then it is. Sometimes, I have to really remind myself of that, but it’s true. Now more than ever, I am proud to be Berkeley famous.

Recently,  The New York Times posted an article about social media on college campuses. It prominently featured my quotes and my picture. It’s really exciting to be that close to “real” fame, but it’s also scary. Yes, I have gotten this far and accomplished this much. But after I leave UC Berkeley, will I ever reach these heights again? The thought of peaking now, as the admin of a Facebook page, is enough to make me contemplate remaining as admin forever. But I know it wouldn’t be the right thing. A UC Berkeley page should be run by a UC Berkeley student. Once this semester ends, and I leave college, I should be able to move on. Maybe I’ll make the Times again, maybe not. But wherever I end up, I’ll leave my mark there just as I left my mark on UC Berkeley.

Spencer Hill writes the Friday column on being a moderator of Overheard at UC Berkeley and Confessions from UC Berkeley. Contact him at [email protected].