Junot Diaz addresses students in Lorimer Chapel.
Speeches make Junot Diaz nervous, he says. As a child of a dictatorship, “Standing and delivering statements evokes in me an almost allergic reaction,” he explained. However, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist quickly had a capacity audience in Lorimer Chapel laughing with his colloquial language and quick jokes and captivated by the force of his words. Diaz opened the 2011 S.H.O.U.T (Speaking, Hearing, Opening Up Together) weekend by speaking of his own entry into activism and what power Colby students have to be catalysts of change themselves–a quick launch into this year\’s S.H.O.U.T. theme, The Power of Youth.
Diaz\’s childhood was spent in both the Dominican Republic, “a post-dictatorship, American-backed, repressive democracy,” and in the United States on the tail end of the 1960\’s political turmoil and youth protests. Understanding the violence of Dominican politics and the consequences of being a revolutionary in America, all while learning to speak English as an immigrant child, led Diaz to be informed about the power hierarchies around him at a very young age. Diaz thought the American Dream was to become rich, not to transform the world—something that resonated with Colby students worried, they revealed in their questions to him, about simultaneously finding a job and exploring their passions.
According to Diaz, Colby students must pay back the privilege of a liberal arts education by leaving the campus a little bit better than they found it. Two ways to push against a society that encourages “accumulation, competition, and stratification,” he said, are through art and activism–words nearly inextricable from one another in Diaz\’s opinion. “Art is the CNN of the human condition,” Diaz said. “The only reason you\’re interesting as an artist is because you become profoundly lost in the world.”
Soul Steps performs in the student center as part of the S.H.O.U.T. weekend.
Diaz\’s own activism as a graduate student at Cornell makes him believe that college students can and must be engaged in the world around them. “It\’s scary to be engaged in something that could make you a stranger to yourself” Diaz said, but he encouraged students to engage anyway. “Open yourself up to the possibility of being radically transformed by your