She entered the back of the room without notice. Once students realized she was there they descended upon her beginning an impromptu series of hugs, tears, selfies and autographs. A literary rock star had arrived in the Bistro in OCC’s Gordon Student Center.
The students had come to meet and share their stories with New York Times bestselling author Cheryl Strayed. Her book “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail”” is the subject of a campus-wide Common Read. The memoir is a candid account of her transformational journey while hiking 1,100 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, a journey which pressed her unraveling body and spirit towards a poetic truth of self-discovery.
One of the first students to meet Strayed was Paris Uthman. “I ran up to her and told her, ‘I almost quit. I almost gave up on college without looking back.’ She whispered in my ear, ‘Don’t.’ It was amazing.”
Each of the approximately two dozen students in attendance had their moment with Strayed, sharing stories and hugs. When Strayed began her question and answer session she let them know just how much the emotional exchanges meant to her. “You guys all just totally made my day with all of the kind things you said to me. I started crying when I came in here because so many of you related to me. The most powerful and exciting thing that has happened to me out of ‘Wild” is what just happened. Making this connection with people I meet is far and away my most significant professional achievement.”
Strayed answered student’s questions about her memoir, the movie “Wild” which was adapted from her book and the art of writing. “I didn’t know somebody like me could be a writer,” she told them. “What I had was a drive and a passion and I loved the way reading made me feel. Writing is an act of discovery and the ultimate bridge builder. It’s the only art form where we can enter someone else’s life and mind.”
As she wrapped up her remarks Strayed told students OCC had become her favorite college campus to speak at because of how willing students were to open up and share their stories. Later that evening she told her story again during a lecture inside the SRC Arena and Events Center. Many of the students who met her in the Bistro also attended her lecture. “Her book is helping me,” said Uthman, one of the students who attended both of Strayed’s events. “She started with nothing and look at her now. She’s it and that’s what I want to be. That’s why I came here.”