Notes from the Field: Piper Kerman’s One Book One Campus Presentation at UofI

Piper Kerman at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Piper Kerman at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Alexis Williams, Community Health

Wednesday night, Piper Kerman, the author of Orange is The New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, was in attendance here at The University of Illinois. For those who missed this event, especially graduating seniors, you sadly missed a great inspirational message, communicated through engaging anecdotes of her life.

Because I’m one of those tech nerds who works at CITES, before I get into the content of Kerman’s presentation, I want to talk a bit about the technology that made this event possible. As noted recently by Business Insider, our campus is real big on technology. Of course we have our own Tech Zone, which allows faculty, staff, and students to buy I-pads, headphones, and speakers, and they even fix computers. But all over campus, each academic building is equipped with some type of technology, whether it be LCD projectors or the old fashion transparency projectors. This campus is equipped to help students learn, and this event was no different. At this event, there were two big LCD Projectors present on each side of the room. It was very helpful because the room was packed with people waiting to hear Kerman’s story. People did not have to squint, they just had to simply look on their particular side of the room, where the projection screen allowed them to see and hear details that would have been lost without the tech.

Now for the content, brought to you by Kerman and Illinois’ technological infrastructure. Kerman, of course, is a great autobiographical writer, so she talked mostly about the different, important parts of her life. The most important part for me, as an observer, was hearing about her graduating college. She went to Smith College which, in size, demographics, and mission, is quite different from Illinois. However, all students everywhere have the same goal, which is graduating. Since this semester is almost over with, we have seniors getting ready to graduate soon. Kerman, despite being an accomplished author now, did not always have a sense of what to do with her life: when she graduated she did not have a clue what path to pursue, a common experience for many impending graduates. And not only did Kerman not know what to do when she emerged into the real world, she made a series of mistakes. As she noted, “When my college life was over, I did not have a clue what to do. I was indecisive. And when I finally chose the path to go down, it turn out to be the wrong path.”

Graduating seniors, some of you might not know what to do or probably haven’t decided, but step out into the world the following advice, inspired by Kerman’s visit to Illinois: 1) it’s OK to not know what to do, 2) you’ll make mistakes, but 3) keep trying–keep learning and growing, and maybe you’ll be the next author of an awesome series. Congrats, seniors!


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