Interview with John O’Connor on a speech by Luis Rodriguez

by Alison O’Connor

Q: Where were you at the time you heard the speech?

A: In the audience at Morton West High School, where I was teaching at the time.

Q: Why was the speech being given?

A: Rodriguez was invited to give a talk to students because he had been a gang-banger and a thug as a young man, he ran with gangs and went to jail, but he later became a successful writer, and we wanted to share his experience with students.

Q: What qualified the speaker to give the speech?

A: He had an extraordinarily difficult childhood filled with violence, who overcame very difficult circumstances to be a famous writer, who wrote Always Running, among other works.

Q: What was the subject of the speech?

A: Transcendence. He wanted the audience to know that it was possible to overcome the obstacles of your surroundings, and wanted to use himself as proof that this was possible.

Q: What was the speaker’s approach?

A: He told stories about his life; his life in gangs, his life in prison and his life after prison.

Q: How did the speaker keep your attention?

A: By telling compelling stories.

Q: What particular lines do you remember?

A: He said “any of you, no matter how difficult your lives are, or how much pain you’ve caused or how much pain you’ve felt, can transcend and overcome your experiences.

Q: How did you react immediately afterward?

A: I talked with other faculty and students about how moving the speech was.

Q: What effect did it have later on?

A: The effect it had on me was amazing, but there was one student in the school, he was at the very bottom of his class, who later said that he thought the speech was directed to him because the speaker made the case that anyone could overcome their circumstances. So he became the first person in his family to graduate college, and even got a PhD in Anthropology from Michigan State University.

Q: How do you think the speech would be regarded today?

A: I think the speech is universally applicable.

Q: Did hearing the speech impact the way you view people, places and circumstances today?

A: Without a doubt. The outcome I’d mentioned earlier is one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever heard of, and it reinforced the power of personal example.

Q: Would you feel the same way about the speech today?

A: Yes. 

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