Lizzie Jacobs remembers the story of that day in 1997 when she left her suburban Chicago home for Williams College in Massachusetts.
“Arthur, my teddy bear, had fallen out of the minivan—or possibly been pushed,” she said. “It was like a cord cutting. I think I was nervous, but I also was excited because I felt like everything was ahead of me and I was on my own. I actually wasn’t on my own—my sister went there—but I felt like I was on my own in all the good ways.”
So when Jacobs, the Co-Executive Producer, Animation and Senior Editor for Print at StoryCorps, got in front of Butler University’s Class of 2018 on Monday at Clowes Memorial Hall, she understood how they might be feeling.
Jacobs was at Butler to talk about Ties That Bind: Stories of Love and Gratitude from the First Ten Years of StoryCorps, this year’s common reading for the incoming class. Jennifer Griggs, Director of Butler’s Learning Resource Center, said the University chose Ties That Bind as the common read because “it really had an angle on diversity that matched our common values.”
“I believe this book is a perfect book for this time in your lives,” Jacobs told the 974 first-year students. “It’s a book about relationships—the surprising ways they begin and the myriad ways they change our lives for the better. And, yes, you’re all here to learn. You come here to learn and to prepare for the working world, and you’ll be in labs and music rooms and classrooms and library carrels.
“But all that time, if you’re smart, you’ll be focusing just as much on the people around you—your professors, of course, but also the staff in the dining hall and the dean’s office, the people maybe at the pizza joint, and, most of all, each other. The people sitting to the left and the right of you and that you’ll be surrounded by every day of your time here. Your freshman roommate, your lab mate, classmate, teammate. And years from now, you’ll remember and lean on the things you learned from each other as much as what you learned in class. And if you’re lucky, there’ll be two or three whose friendship will change your life forever.”
Jacobs said being part of StoryCorps, the national project to inspire people to record each other’s stories, has taught her to ask questions that get meaningful answers and encourage loved ones to be open and honest.
Too often, she said, we smooth things over and keep the conversation light. But StoryCorps, which over the past 10 years has recorded the stories of more than 50,000 people, shows that asking the right questions and encouraging others to talk helps us understand each other.
“People actually want to be asked about their lives,” Jacobs said. “When you ask them to share something about themselves, it tells them they’re important to you. So in these coming months and years, as you spend time together … try asking them about their grandparents. Or what their dreams are. Why did they come here? What are they proudest of? These are the big questions we encourage you to ask. And you might get some surprising answers. You might actually get to know one another.”