Union College presents Freedom Writers' Erin Gruwell

Erin GruwellErin Gruwell, co-author of The Freedom Writers, will be speaking at 8:30 p.m., Nov. 13, at the Seventh-day Adventist College View Church, 4801 Prescott Ave., Lincoln, Neb. Gruwell, the inspiration for the motion picture Freedom Writers, will present "Becoming a Catalyst for Change."

Linda Becker, vice president for Student Services at Union College, organized the guest event. "The Leadership Certification Program is a new program that gets students excited about leadership. We've begun an annual leadership symposium that allows our students to hear influential speakers, like Erin Gruwell," Becker explained. "The speakers talk about how to think differently, how to bring fresh thought. They bring new perspectives to strident situations."

Becker said the off-campus advisory for the leadership program had heard Gruwell speak at a separate occasion. An advisory member, Deane Finnegan, said Gruwell was energetic and enthusiastic. "Finnegan gave an excellent recommendation for Gruwell," Becker said.

Students on campus are interested in hearing her speak. "I am impressed that Erin Gruwell is coming to speak here. She made such a difference in her students' lives; she had to have, they made a movie about her!" said junior marketing major Brenda Beenken. "I'm looking forward to hearing about her experience, both the challenges and the high points."

"It's great to hear people speak about how they have had an impact on the world," said Bryan Pool, senior international rescue and relief major. "I'm looking forward to seeing the movie to have a little bit of background on her."

Background on Erin Gruwell

Erin Gruwell has earned an award-winning reputation for her steadfast commitment to the future of education. Her impact as a change agent runs deep. So deep, in fact, that her story attracted Hollywood's attention. In January 2007, Paramount Pictures released Freedom Writers, starring two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank as Erin. The film is based on The Freedom Writers Diary, The New York Times bestseller that chronicled Gruwell's extraordinary journey with 150 high school students who had been written off by the education system.

By fostering an educational philosophy that valued and promoted diversity, she transformed her students' lives. She encouraged them to re-think rigid beliefs about themselves and others, reconsider daily decisions, and ultimately re-chart their futures. With her support, they chose to forego teenage pregnancy, drugs, and violence to become aspiring college students, published writers, and citizens for change. They dubbed themselves "The Freedom Writers," in homage to civil rights activists The Freedom Riders, and published a book.

Inspired by Anne Frank, Gruwell and her students captured their collective journey in The Freedom Writers Diary. Through poignant student entries and her narrative text, the book records their eye-opening, spirit-raising odyssey against intolerance and misunderstanding. In early 2007, Teach with Your Heart, Gruwell's powerful memoir and call to arms was published.

While she has been credited with giving her students a second chance, it was perhaps she who changed the most during her tenure at Wilson High School. She decided to channel her classroom experiences toward a broader cause, and today her impact as a teacher extends well beyond Room 203. She founded the Freedom Writers Foundation where she currently teaches teachers around the country how to implement her innovative lesson plans into their own classrooms. Recently, her teaching methods from her time in Room 203 have been published in the Freedom Writers Diary Teacher's Guide. Proceeds from the sale of all books directly fund the Freedom Writers Foundation.

Gruwell and her students have appeared on numerous television shows, including Oprah, Prime Time Live with Connie Chung, The View, and Good Morning America, to name a few. Their story has earned them dozens of awards, including the Spirit of Anne Frank Award.