John Green ’00 is a young adult author, video blogger and semi-professional video game player. Most recently, he wrote The Fault in Our Stars, which was released as a movie in 2014, and was listed as an executive producer for the movie adaptation of Paper Towns. He will also write and produce a forthcoming movie about the English Premier League soccer club he supports, AFC Wimbledon. He will speak at the 2016 Commencement ceremony.
How has the College changed from how it was when you were here?
Kenyon is a better college than it was when I went there. It’s a much more selective than it was [when I attended], and that has changed the school overall in ways that are quite good. It is true that nostalgia and the falseness of memory cloud my judgement. At the time I went there I liked it about as well as I like it now. I had some mixed feelings about it at the time, but I loved it. It’s funny because I wasn’t a very good student, but I loved my classes and I loved my professors and I loved my friends, and that’s most of what remains. There’s very little that remains of my understanding of mythic time or The Scarlet Letter. The generosity that was shown to me by professors and staff and my peers is still there and with me. That was the great gift of Kenyon and I suspect that hasn’t changed.
Is college the place where you started eating cereal with cold water?
I have been eating my cereal with water since childhood. I did eat my cereal with water at Kenyon and I can confirm that it was delicious. I don’t understand why this is controversial. It’s just less caloric — it’s a very straightforward calculation in my head of “where do I enjoy getting the calories from,” and for me the answer is the cereal. I feel bad that it has caused so much controversy within our viewing community.
How has your conception of celebrity changed over the last few years?
When I was in college, I thought if I was famous, or if I had a public life or was widely known, that my life would be better. That’s what I wanted, I wanted to have that happen, and it’s impossible for me to imagine what my life would be like if it hadn’t happened. You never know quite what life would look like if X or Y happened. I don’t want to sound ungrateful at all for my good luck. I think I probably hold celebrity in less esteem than I did 10 years ago, but at the same time I feel very grateful. I think what’s complicated, now having befriended some proper actual celebrities, I think those people are conscious that their jobs and livelihoods would not exist without this many-tentacled beast that they fear and recoil from. It’s similar to professional athletes, in a lot of ways. I think most professional athletes dislike the intrusive media coverage of their lives, but at the same time because of that intrusive media coverage they’re able to play a child’s game for a very comfortable living. I probably feel that ambivalence to a lesser extent because I live in Indianapolis and have a two-kid kind of life.
How has YouTube and the internet changed how you define community?
I was a member of online video fan communities before I was an online video creator. I had never owned a video camera, never opened iMovie until five days before Hank [his brother with whom he runs VlogBrothers and other YouTube projects] and I started the project. I have always been an excitable member of fan communities. For me, the energy is all around the stuff that’s being made in response to creators. I hope that Hank and I make good videos, but in response to the work that we do. I am always fascinated and excited by what people make after watching our stuff. I do think that my time at Kenyon influenced my understanding of communities for sure. I didn’t know how to carry forward that sense of community that I had in Gambier into adulthood very well. I’m still not great at adulthood but I was really bad at it for a long time. For a long time I thought the church was going to be the community to be similar to what I had found in Gambier, and then I thought it was going to be sketch comedy, and then it turned out to be something that did not exist when I graduated, which was YouTube. You think you know what your life is going to look like, but you can’t. One of the weird things about graduating from college is that the job you may have one day may not exist yet.
One big issue on campus right now is sexual misconduct, after a letter was released by an alum detailing his sister’s negative experience with the Title IX office. The YouTube community you’re a part of has also experienced similar issues and allegations of sexual misconduct by prominent channel hosts. As a leader in that community, how do you facilitate discussions on difficult topics like this one?
I think it’s difficult. It was a huge issue when I was a student at Kenyon 15 years ago. We have to listen to victims and treat their experiences seriously. I don’t know the specifics of that particular incident [on Kenyon’s campus], but as a general rule, I think that’s the appropriate first response. I feel like we were able to have productive, nuanced discussions back in 1998, but it was difficult, and I remember it being difficult, not quite knowing. In the YouTube community, our first concern was to listen to young women and then from there it became very clear that they were telling the truth. This is so far outside of my realm of expertise, but my personal experience has been to listen to people about their experiences and take them seriously. I’m also not sure how far the weight of a white, straight, cisgender dude should go in this conversation. I feel pretty comfortable saying to listen to people smarter than me.
Is it difficult to transition from writing to film production? How does the transition influence your work?
I’ve always had a day job. I had a day job when I was writing Looking for Alaska I didn’t have a day job for about six months when I was writing an Abundance of Katherines, then I found one doing online video. I like having a day job. I don’t think it slows down my writing. I think my writing would be slow regardless. I am incredibly lucky to be able to only do stuff I want to do in online video. I feel very strongly about CrashCourse and the continuing conversation on I also feel very strongly about AFC Wimbledon [the League 2 English Premier League soccer team Green and his online community sponsors]. I love their story, I love that club. If I can help in any way get the story to more people and get the club more resources, then I want to do that. They have provided me with more joy and consolation than I can ever pay back. I know that it’s silly and I know it doesn’t mean anything, but as Pope John Paul II said, of all the unimportant things football is the most important.
Have you listened to the new Beyoncé album?
I have. I’ve also watched the film. It’s great, and it’s funny because we’ve had a few really great pop albums come out in the past few years and it feels like pop music has gotten a lot better. Beyoncé is probably the greatest pop musician right now. She’s brilliant.
How do you feel the Commencement speech will be different than the speech you gave at Kenyon in 2014? How are you feeling about the cicadas?
The speech is going to be completely different because I don’t want to repeat myself. I’ve done this before, but I’ve obviously never done it at Kenyon. It means a lot to me because of the professors that will be there, because I love the College. It’s a tremendous honor to be asked. It’s a very intimidating prospect. My main feeling as I’m sure what everyone else will be feeling is that I also wish that David Foster Wallace was there. I’m really excited for the class of 2016. It’s a complicated world they are entering into as they descend the Hill, but I think the world will be better for it. The last time the cicadas were in Gambier was when I graduated from Kenyon. I’m not particularly worried about them. I have a memory of like cicadas falling on the stage and falling on the people, but that’s probably false.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.