By Camila Dadabhoy
Earlier this quarter, I had the opportunity to participate in one of UCI’s mentor/mentee programs called Dinners with Anteaters, organized by our very own Student Alumni Association. Dinners with Anteaters is a program that unites current students with successful alumni of our university for an evening dinner hosted by volunteers all throughout Orange County.
Each fall, students can join this program, free of charge, to discuss their academic careers and concerns over casual food and fun alongside their peers. The amiable alumni go above and beyond for this event, opening up their homes and providing full meals for the students, guaranteeing an enjoyable and fulfilling night.
On Nov. 1, Erin Gruwell, published author, dedicated public activist and most importantly, proud Anteater alumni, kindly offered me a seat at her Dinner for Anteaters that upcoming weekend after the screening of her documentary, “Stories From an Undeclared War” at UCI.
Gruwell is the famous author of “The Freedom Writers Diary,” published in 1999, a non-fiction book written by a group of students from Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California, recounting the challenges they faced amidst their hopes of receiving an education and pursuing a positive future. The book is composed of journals Gruwell encouraged her students to write in that ultimately allowed them to overcome stereotypes, break free from the violence in their homes and explore the world and all it has to offer. With inspiring chapters from Gruwell herself, the book gained phenomenal worldwide fame resulting in a 2007 film of the same name based on the stories, starring Hilary Swank.
Gruwell’s valiant efforts to contribute to the academic community and assure education for everyone, despite the circumstances, is nothing below exemplary. As a result, Gruwell founded the Freedom Writers Foundation in Long Beach, a non-profit organization that helps enforce her motivating teaching methods in school curriculums all over the world.
Star-struck upon meeting one of my favorite authors, I could barely contain my excitement until that Saturday, Nov. 4, when I had the opportunity to visit the Freedom Writers Foundation and hear the influential words of the Freedom Writers themselves.
The dinner was complete with students of all different backgrounds at UCI, a delicious, authentic Mexican taco stand and the foundation’s extremely cute dog, Bo, interacting with the crowd. Hearing the stories of the Freedom Writers over dinner allowed the students to engage with each other, prompt questions and receive advice in all their academic and personal endeavors.
As a third-year transfer student new to UCI, I was honored to receive the chance to participate in such a moving event, learning from people like Gruwell who spend every day contributing their efforts to impacting this world for the better. The mentoring advice and networking experience offered through organizations like this are incredibly supportive and beneficial to students new to the university scene.
Sponsored by the Student Alumni Association in cooperation with the UC Irvine Alumni Association, Dinners with Anteaters has been an Anteater tradition for the past four years. The event continues to bring over 400 students together every quarter to exchange stories, learn about schoolwide programs, gain mentor advice from alumni and strengthen our Anteater community.
Simply being in the presence of such an open-hearted individual like Gruwell can give perspective to understanding how the job falls to our generations to unite and grow together to change the world, even if it’s one journal at a time.