More than 1,500 members of the St. John’s community piled into Belson Stadium Oct. 2, to listen to renowned author Mitch Albom talk about his latest book, Have A Little Faith.
Albom is known for his New York Times best selling books, and his award winning work in the world of sports journalsim.
However, the process to bring the acclaimed writer to the Queens campus was very involved, and would not have been possible without the certain members of the University.
Back in April 2009, Mary Pelkowski, associate dean for Student Engagement, heard that Albom was picking 15 colleges across the country to talk about his latest book, which focuses on his travels and experiencing firsthand what it is like to “pay it forward.”
“Pay it forward” refers to the action of giving back to someone else after receiving good fortune of their own.
“E-mails went out from the Royce Carlton Agency back in April announcing that Mitch Albom was doing a college tour,” said Pelkowski. “We submitted our proposal and our date was accepted right away.”
Along with Pelkowski, Student Government Inc., Friends of the Library and Student Affairs, two students worked particularly close with Pelkowski in making arrangements for Albom to speak at the University to bring Albom to campus.
Junior Patrick Brewer, Student Government secretary, and senior Jacquelyn Torres, Student Government treasurer, spent months working alongside Pelkowski and other members of the University to make Albom’s visit possible.
In order to be considered, the University had to follow a certain procedure.
“The process involved a presentation to him, including how many people we could provide, what are the core values of St. John’s and what did it mean to be a Vincentian University,” said Brewer. “We had to market what we had to him.”
Torres, who is also a student worker for Pelkowski, had read Albom’s work and enjoyed watching the University light up with excitement.
“It was nice seeing Mary being hyped and sharing that with the students, and getting everyone else excited,” said Torres.
As part of Albom’s contract with the schools he agreed to speak at, the establishments are required to make arrangements for him to speak at another faith-based organization in the community. The University chose the Free Synagogue of Flushing.
“The collaboration of working with the synagouge and faith-based partners is the core of who we are as a University, and being able to be a part of this was an overwhelming experience,” said Pelkowski.
In addition, the University had to name at least two faith-based organizations that would be invited to the lecture at Belson Stadium. The organizations that were invited included St. John the Baptist Elementary School and Parish, St. John’s Bread and Life Soup Kitchen, Holy Family Grammar School and Macedonia Baptist Church.
Pelkowski said she felt that Albom’s latest book, Have a Little Faith, related very closely with the values of the University as a community. “The book challenges us to examine our faith,” she said. “Our Vincentian message is the heart of who and what we are as an institiution of higher learning, and our faith is a central part of that message.”
Both Brewer and Torres said they were impressed by the amount of people who attended the lecture. Not only were there students at Belson Stadium, but the lecture was also televised in Marillac Cafeteria and the Staten Island campus.
This was also the first time St. John’s hosted a lecture at Belson Stadium.
“It was really nice,” said Brewer. “I had not expected that many alumni and faculty members to come out.”
Pelkowski said she was pleased with the turnout of the event, and the impact it had on the members of the University.
“From students that I met in the hallway thanking me for bringing Albom to campus, to faculty coming to the lecture with their classes, to alumni that drove from Virginia to see him speak at her alma matter, it made this night so worth it,” she said.
During the lecture, Albom spoke about his experience with two polar opposite people that taught him a powerful lesson that changed his life, which is what Have a Little Faith is about.
In the lecture and the book, Albom spoke of his childhood Rabbi, who asked him to deliver his eulogy at his funeral when the time came.
Not knowing the Rabbi well enough, the author dives into his life in order to get to know him in a more intimate setting, “outside of the suit.”
In the eight year process of getting to know the man outside of the suit, Albom also met another man of faith, but in a much different setting.
Henry, the founder of My Brother’s Keeper Congregation in Detroit, is the leader of the church that was being considered to receive aid from one of Albom’s charities.
With a past full of poverty, incarceration, addiction and despair, Henry turned his life around with his faith in God. He now focuses his whole life in serving his poverty stricken community.
While getting to know both men, Albom learned that even in the darkest moments, people can change their lives if they have a little faith.
At the end of the lecture, it seemed that most students had forgotten the cold weather, and were impacted by his speech.
Afterward, Albom signed copies of his books for eager fans. Alyssa-Roe Hug, a freshman, came out to see Albom because of the message he conveys in his books.
“I think he is a phenomenal writer,” said Hug. “His books are about faith, hope and living well.”
After the speech Albom presented at the University, Torres said she feels that any speaker with the same attitude would be a good candidate to be a guest lecturer at the University.
“I think anyone who is interested to inspire students would be good,” she said. “And anyone who is willing to convey a positive message to the student body.”
Pelkowski said she hopes the the St. John’s community was able to walk away from it thinking more about their own connection to their faith.
“I hope that the members of the University were touched in some way by the speech, and received a little bit of hope and inspiration,” she said.
“I think Albom was enlightened on how a Catholic and extremely diverse University came together on a historic night to listen to one common theme that we all at some point in our lives ponder: faith.”