By Madeleine Thompson
Kenyon’s Nerdfighters were out in full force this week. That’s the moniker applied to fans of the best selling young adult novelist John Green ’00 who spoke in Rosse Hall on Monday.
While Rosse can only accommodate around 650 people, approximately 3,200 people were able to watch Green a lecture entitled “Thoughts on How to Make Things and Why.”
The majority of those viewers watched online. Furthermore, 322 Twitter users submitted questions with the hashtag #TweetJohnGreen. Kenyon College’s account was mentioned 244 times, at one point reaching an audience 507 times its normal size, according to the Office of Public Affairs.
Green was brought to campus by the Faculty Lectureships Committee, which received a proposal to host him in December 2012, according to Reginald Sanders, committee chair and associate professor of music.
“The idea was to get a speaker who would appeal to a wide swath of the community,” said Sanders, who declined to disclose the cost of bringing Green to campus. “We were all excited about it.”
After deciding to go forward with the proposal and receiving Green’s formal acceptance, Director of Cultural Events Susan Spaid, who is also the Faculty Lectureships coordinator, began hashing out details with Green’s agent.
“The Faculty Lectureships Committee knew that bringing [Green] to campus would be an exciting event,” Spaid said, “but when we began receiving calls in December from [his] fans in other places who wanted to come to campus to hear him, we knew we would need to put a ticket distribution system in place.” The system was implemented to handle demand, and all 650 tickets were given out.
Associate Professor of Biology Andrew Kerkhoff was chair of Faculty Lectureships at the time, and originally proposed Green as a speaker. Kerkhoff thought Green would be a good investment because he “exemplifies … using multiple media to reach young people about intellectual topics” and “[validates] intellectual culture amongst young people.”
“I just happened to suggest him before he completely exploded on the scene,” said Kerkhoff, whose daughters introduced him to Green and his brother Hank’s YouTube channel. “The whole ‘Nerdfighter’ is something that, as a nerd myself, I can totally get behind.”
A self-described “terrible titler,” Green tried to choose the “broadest title possible” and finally settled on “Thoughts on How to Make Things and Why.”
“I guess I [wanted] to talk about whether there is meaning to human life and why in the face of that question, we continue to try to create stuff,” Green said. “It’s not really about anything.”
While choosing a title may not have been Green’s greatest strength, the author said he focused the majority of his efforts on the actual speech. “I spent a lot of time working on this actually,” Green said. “Honestly the reason why I get so nervous … is because I know that people I really, really admire are going to be in that room and I don’t want to disappoint them.”
One of these people was Don Rogan, professor emeritus of religious studies, whom Green became close to over the course of his time at Kenyon, when he took four of Rogan’s classes. During his speech, Green mentioned going to poetry readings at Rogan’s house, and even based the character of Dr. Hyde in his novel Looking for Alaska on Rogan.
“I’m hard to disappoint,” Rogan said. “I thought [the speech] was amazing.” When asked what kind of student Green was, Rogan replied, “A.”
“He has a magic about him,” Rogan said. “He’s very talkative and very funny and very open-minded. He has an amazing personality. We certainly never had trouble enjoying him.”
Rogan had looked forward to his visit since he found out he would be returning to campus, and got to spend time with him when he came to film promotional videos for the Office of Admissions.
Though the use of Green as a College marketing tool is not a universally favored strategy, Green is happy to be useful to Kenyon’s efforts to reach prospective students. “I really liked my times at Kenyon,” Green said. “I really valued it and I think that this is a special place and I’m quite happy to tell people that.”
For Green, Kenyon was another coming-of-age after high school. “All of my books are inspired by my time at Kenyon,” Green said.