We sat down with our speakers at this year’s First-Year Experience conference and asked them to reflect on resiliency. From writing fiction to serving in the military, our speakers’ inspiring stories demonstrate how resiliency is a fundamental skill for both personal and professional growth.
As a young writer, Cristina Henríquez realized the literary community was in dire need of diverse voices. After reading Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street in an anthology, she became more determined than ever to be published, despite the challenges facing a young Latina writer. Developing resiliency and overcoming obstacles, Henríquez eventually published the short story collection, Come Together, Fall Apart. She is now the author of three books, including the critically acclaimed The Book of Unknown Americans.
Celebrated classicist and Columbia University Fellow Dan-el Padilla Peralta is the author of Undocumented, a memoir that retraces his struggles navigating the rough streets of Harlem and finding his place in a prestigious Manhattan private school. For Peralta, resiliency means, “[to] not only overcome an obstacle, [but] rebound from an obstacle, improve on oneself with the encounter with that obstacle.” Having emigrated from the Dominican Republic to the United States with his family in 1989, Peralta offers an inspiring glimpse of the American immigrant experience.
When asked about resiliency, bestselling author J. Ryan Stradal considers its relationship to fiction, noting that authors must challenge their subjects in order to offer readers a satisfying story line and rewarding character development. He views resiliency as “a crucial backbone to fiction narratives.” Stradal is the author of the critically acclaimed debut novel Kitchens of the Great Midwest, which has been hailed as “a feat of narrative jujitsu.” Like his book, Stradal’s lectures delve deep into the American heartland in and capture the Midwest zeitgeist in a deeply personal way.
Retired U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills‘ motto epitomizes resiliency “Never give up. Never quit.” As one of only five servicemen from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ever to survive his injuries as a quadruple amputee, Mills is the founder of the Travis Mills Foundation and an international advocate for veterans and amputees. His story inspires, encourages, challenges, and motivates audiences to move forward. He illustrates how resilient the human spirit is, how unbreakable the will is when pressed with difficult demands, and how triumphant a person can be when tasked with the seemingly impossible.
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