Shortly after her election as student director on the Berkeley Unified School Board last year, Berkeley High’s Lily Dorman-Colby outlined an ambitious plan to mobilize students against unpopular board decisions. “I want to be a politician,” she told the Berkeley Daily Planet’s Matthew Artz. “I want to change the world.” In addition, the senior wrestler announced that she was going to put a stop to the board’s habit of extending meetings late into the night.
“These meetings are ending at 10 p.m.,” she said. “If they have questions I’d tell them, ‘Talk to me before the meeting, I’ve got a tournament tomorrow.’”
Dorman-Colby failed miserably on the late-night meeting issue. In a year filled with ongoing budget problems and a contentious teacher job action, board meetings often went past the 11 o’clock hour, and once or twice she had to request items be taken out of turn so that she could participate in the debate and then get home to get enough sleep for an important test the next day.
And during her last speech as student director at Wednesday night’s School Board meeting, the Berkeley High graduate and incoming Yale freshman admitted, a little sheepishly, that “I couldn’t do all of the things I wanted to do on the board. There’s so much process. Things take a lot longer to get done than I thought they would.”
It was not for lack of trying.
In her nine months as student director, Dorman-Colby established herself both as the voice of Berkeley Unified’s students and as the conscience of the school board. She took her role seriously, never acting as either obstructionist or token place-holder but as a full participant, despite the fact that by state law, student directors have only an advisory vote. Her questions on obscure budget line-items or seemingly-minor entries in staff reports often highlighted the ways that broad policy decisions have impact on real people—particularly her student constituents—and her impassioned speeches at key emotional moments more than once left the other board members in the oddest of positions for a politician—speechless, themselves.
Probably Dorman-Colby’s most memorable moments on the board came during this spring’s teacher contract dispute, when she often chastised teachers—many of them her own instructors—that their work-to-rule action was having a devastating effect upon students. “We need you,” she once said of teachers, tears rolling down her face. “We need you answering questions at lunchtime, and helping us after school. How many students will miss making it to a major college next year because of education time lost? We just don’t know.”
“Berkeley education changed my life,” she said in her closing remarks to the board Wednesday night. “Without it, I could have ended up in the street. So I wanted to give something back to Berkeley education.”
She absolutely did.