A bestselling author kicked off the 2017-18 academic year at MTSU by advising students to bridge cultural gaps.
“Don’t forget where you came from,” said J.D. Vance. “Be a part of it, building a bridge between those who have college degrees and those who don’t. Be part of building a bridge between those who have opportunities and those who don’t.”
Vance, author of “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis,” addressed students Aug. 26 at University Convocation in Murphy Center. During the Summer Reading Program, now in its 16th year, incoming students were encouraged to read, discuss and analyze Vance’s book.
“The practice of sharing a significant reading over the summer is intended to illustrate our mutual commitment to sharing … important topics of our world and as part of our community,” said MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee.
The book, which stayed on The New York Times’ bestseller list for 54 weeks, chronicles the effect of his Appalachian upbringing on his values and views on social issues while growing up in Jackson, Kentucky, and Middletown, Ohio.
With the success of “Hillbilly Elegy,” the media have enlisted Vance’s aid numerous times as an analyst for issues ranging from what motivates President Trump’s supporters to what the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, says about race relations in America.
“A college education is one of the invisible but most important barriers separating those that have opportunities from those who don’t,” said Vance.
In his address, Vance said there are no easy answers to the income inequality that has stifled the fulfillment of the American dream for millions of low-income and middle-class people in certain geographical areas.
He advised students, however, to view opportunities not only in terms of money and employment but also in terms of family life. He also urged them not to fall prey to what he called “imposter syndrome,” the feeling of not deserving accolades despite one’s achievements.
“I think you guys can do that, not just here at MTSU, but throughout your lives,” said Vance. “If you’ve got something important to say to one of your friends or one of your professors, say it.”
While speaking to media before Convocation, Vance expressed concerns that disdain for what some people call the “intellectual elite” will cause some young people to shy away from higher education.
“I’m sure there are a lot of people whose pathways have been diverted or changed a little bit by the fact that their families were not necessarily supportive or didn’t appreciate what an institution like this could do,” said Vance.
While maintaining that there is no easy solution, Vance suggested that institutions do more to make families part of the education their children are getting and that students be more sensitive to the fact that their relatives might not have had similar opportunities.
Vance, a venture capitalist by profession, earned his bachelor’s degree from Ohio State University and his law degree from Yale University. He is the founder of Our Ohio Renewal, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping disadvantaged youth through public-private partnerships.
Following convocation, students, families and faculty attended the annual President’s Picnic outside the Emmett and Rose Kennon Hall of Fame, where Vance signed copies of his book.
— Gina Logue (firstname.lastname@example.org)
‘Hillbilly Elegy’ author Vance set to speak at MTSU Convocation Saturday
Aug. 17, 2017
More than 3,000 new Middle Tennessee State University students who have participated in the 2017 Summer Reading Program will hear the author who has become a highly sought guest speaker and go-to media expert on social issues and rural American culture on Saturday, Aug. 26.
Kentucky and Ohio native J.D. Vance will be the keynote speaker for University Convocation, the official start of the 2017-18 academic year, at 5 p.m. Aug. 26 in Murphy Center. The event is free and open to the public.
To find parking near Murphy Center, visit http://tinyurl.com/MTSUParkingMap. People driving to Murphy Center should be aware of ongoing construction along Middle Tennessee Boulevard between East Main Street and Greenland Drive.
Those who can’t attend the ceremony in person can watch it live online; information and a link to Saturday’s live video feed is available here.
“Convocation marks an important milestone for our new students, as we welcome them as full members of this academic community,” said Dr. Deb Sells, vice president for student Affairs and vice provost for enrollment and academic services.
Following the success of his first book, “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis,” a memoir about his Appalachia heritage, upbringing and values tied to social issues in his former hometowns of Jackson, Kentucky, and Middletown, Ohio, Vance, 33, has become a regular on television talk shows, including CNN, as a commentator.
“Our newest students are about to transition to a completely different life,” said Dr. Laurie Witherow, associate vice provost for admissions and enrollment services. “What a better teacher of adaptability than J.D. Vance?”
“His memoir will ring familiar to many of our students who will see themselves, their neighbors or their family members in the characters he’s brought to the page,” Witherow added. “I’m excited to hear him speak at Convocation and more excited that our students have that opportunity.”
Vance earned his bachelor’s degree from Ohio State University and a law degree from Yale University. Earlier this year, the venture capitalist formed a nonprofit called Our Ohio Renewal. He and his wife now live in Columbus, Ohio.
Filmmaker Ron Howard will direct and produce a movie adaptation of “Hillbilly Elegy,” which topped The New York Times best-seller list twice in the past year and spent 54 weeks on the list.
In 2014, MTSU moved Convocation to a Saturday because Murphy Center was being renovated. It returned to the traditional Sunday schedule for two years. Sells said public sentiment convinced officials to make the move back to Saturday.
“We want to make the participation in the experience available to as many parents and family members as possible, and we received feedback the past few years that the Sunday timing made it difficult for families with long drives home,” Sells said.
“The move to Saturday afternoon should mean that families within just three or four hours should still be able to drive home after the event — and those from longer distances can stay overnight and head for home first thing the next morning,” she added. “It allows for a full day of travel on Sunday for those who need it.”
During the Aug. 26 event, university officials will observe a moment of silence for the students who have died since Convocation 2016, Sells said.
Following Convocation, all students and their families and faculty are invited to attend the annual President’s Picnic in the area outside the Emmett and Rose Kennon Hall of Fame.
MTSU students will have an opportunity to meet Vance when he signs copies of his books during the picnic
To learn more about University Convocation and the picnic, which is coordinated by the Office of New Student and Family Programs, visit www.mtsu.edu/stuaff/connect/convocation.php or call 615-898-2454.
MTSU fall classes begin Monday, Aug. 28.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)