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Student sits on Plaza of the Americas to talk about life

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Posted: Friday, November 30, 2007 12:00 am

Sitting across from an empty lawn chair, Michael Berry waits for someone, anyone, to talk to.

Since the beginning of October, Berry, a mechanical engineering junior at UF, has been sitting on the Plaza of Americas with a poster board with big black letters that reads, "My name is Mike. I want to sit and talk about life."

Berry isn't lonely. He wants to help.

"I just sit, put up my sign and wait for people to come and talk to me about life or anything they want," he said.

His goal, on the Tuesdays and Thursdays he sits on the plaza, is to talk about things that matter, such as family issues and everyday frustrations.

Berry began his peer-to-peer counseling when he noticed Christian preachers in Turlington trying to show students that God can help them through their struggles.

He said that Turlington preachers "talk at people," but his goal is "to talk to people and listen."

One of his hopes is that when people sit in the chair next to him and talk, they feel they can be real with him, he said.

Berry said he's found that many people are open and philosophical.

Passers-by often stop to vent to him, he said.

Berry remembered a girl walking briskly by who stopped, threw her hands in the air and screamed, "I just failed my calculus exam!"

She sat down for a few minutes and talked about her classes while he just listened, and then she thanked him for letting her vent.

"For some people, it's just a release to get things out," Berry said.

While his intent was to help others, Berry said he's also gained from the experience by learning through differences and opinions of others.

He is willing to talk about anything, but Berry is not a licensed counselor. He doesn't promise to be the best but will certainly sit and listen, he said

Shari Robinson, a licensed mental health counselor at UF's Counseling Center, said many people alleviate stress by expressing themselves emotionally and verbally.

"It can be very therapeutic to talk to someone who isn't in a person's inner circle because the person doesn't feel judged," Robinson said.

Berry knows when a problem is beyond his abilities. Although he hasn't been approached with severe issues, such as suicidal thoughts or an eating disorder, he said he would advise people with those kinds of problems to contact one of UF's mental health facilities.

Dominique LeCao, a UF criminology junior, has seen Berry talking to other students. LeCao hasn't had the chance to talk to him yet but said he has thought about it.

LeCao says he's not sure if he would go completely in-depth with Berry about his personal issues but is considering it because of the different perspective it could provide.

"I would talk to him because strangers have a whole different point of view of things that are going on," he said.

Welcome to the discussion.