The Student News Site of Utica University

The Tangerine

The Student News Site of Utica University

The Tangerine

The Student News Site of Utica University

The Tangerine

Educator, ‘Freedom Writers’ Author Comes to Utica College Education Celebration

The educator preparation program hosted its annual education celebration event on Thursday, April 25, to showcase student teachers and graduating seniors.

The UC education office personally invited the summer 2018, fall 2018 and spring 2019 student teaching cohorts, as well as any other current students in the educator preparation programs. The event was also open to the entire college community and was hosted in the Library Concourse to accommodate the group.

“We do it every year to put a focus on education and to celebrate our student teachers,” said Kathleen Cullen, department chair for educator preparation.

The hype for the event revolved around its speaker, Erin Gruwell, famous for her best-selling book titled “The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them.” The book was later adapted into a film called “Freedom Writers.”

Gruwell’s book is based off of her story changing the lives of children by teaching in a new way.  

Cullen said she is especially happy about this year’s event because more people attended than usual. She wants to see the students recognized in front of a crowd.

“It’s another reason to do the celebration, because I think that teachers are not recognized and appreciated,” Cullen said. “The students are going to be teachers in the world and not getting the respect they need. We want to give that to them here. They are important — they are very important.”

The event included an awards ceremony, and four students received awards. The awards were the Spirit of the Field Award and the Outstanding Student Teaching Award.

“Education, I don’t think, is celebrated as much as it could be and should be,” Cullen said. “It (the event) illuminates the education program and shows what we’re doing here.”

Cullen said hosting Gruwell as a guest speaker was a “coincidence.”

“I have an adjunct who knows her,” she said. “He emailed me and said she’s coming to speak in his class. We scheduled it specifically on the date we knew she would be on campus.”

The adjunct was Rocco Migliori, who is also superintendent of Westmoreland Central School District. Migliori is hosting Gruwell and said that she will be speaking at Westmoreland and Sauquoit Valley High School for several events and she also will be screening a documentary.

He said Gruwell’s messages are powerful and tend to focus on inclusivity and the power of positive relationships.

“She’s a truly dynamic speaker,” Migliori said.

Gruwell has discovered how to connect with her students on a deeper level that helps them learn.

“She has taught some very challenging students,” Migliori said. “I’ve been impressed with her for a number of years.”

Migliori suggested that UC host Gruwell at its education celebration to help students make a connection to her.

Many education students have drawn inspiration from Gruwell and her story.

“She’s the reason I wanted to become a teacher,” said Morgan Stewart, a junior in the Psychology-Child Life major.

Stewart said “Freedom Writers” showed a unique relationship between Gruwell and her students.

Stewart was moved by the film, which showed Gruwell spending all of her time and energy not just trying to teach her students but learn about them. Gruwell even worked two extra jobs so she could buy her students textbooks that they were interested in.

“Just the way she connected with her students, it was great,” Stewart said.

Gruwell is an inspiration to many students across the world, and especially education majors.

“I am obsessed with Erin and her story,” said grad student Ellen Breckenridge. “Because of her story, I am currently back in school, completing a master’s in math education.”

She has read the “The Freedom Writers Diary” and saw the movie several times. Prior to the event, Breckenridge said she was looking forward to “meeting my hero in person.”

“She inspired my daughter to raise $1,800 over an eight-month span to bring a Holocaust survivor to her school,” she said.

Breckenridge’s daughter and her friend became inspired by Gruwell’s story and raised the money through bake sales and donations.

“Erin embodies all that a teacher should be,” Breckenridge said. “She reaches the ‘unreachable’ and teaches the ‘unteachable.’ She is truly my hero.”More information on Gruwell’s work can be found at

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