University of Michigan: “The Leaders and Best”Posted: January 5, 2012
By: Kenata Martins
I love my alma mater. When I say I am from the University of Michigan, I know I am representing the best; the best leaders with the highest standards who by my estimation are some of the most innovative individuals in the world. My college experience at the University of Michigan was not an isolated four years of my life but a catalyst for the person that I have become today.
During my first year there I decided to take an introductory screenwriting course that changed my life. I had not previously contemplated being a writer, but after that one class, I could not fathom being anything else. I remember beginning my screenwriting class with a blank page and the sudden realization that I had nothing to write about. My instructor told me to “find your voice, write what YOU’RE passionate about.”
A voice I never knew existed emerged from the encouragement of my instructor. This voice was angry about the social injustices within our society, it was emotional about domestic violence being overlooked and it was enraged about child soldiers being forced to fight in rebel armies. When I wrote my screenplay, that was the voice that I followed.
I recall writing a particular scene in my screenplay about a young man who confronts his father eight years after his father brutally murders his mother. My professor read the scene and handed me back my script. He told me that I must re-think and re-write the reaction of the young man. He requested that I place myself in the position of the young man, “How would you react?” he asked me. I pondered it for a moment then I knew what my character was missing: an explosion of anger, an unapologetic rage, complete contempt for his situation. From that moment on, I looked at the individuals in the world I lived in completely different. I assumed a responsibility I never thought I had. I made it my duty to be a representative of my society through my writing. Those who were neglected, misunderstood and disenfranchised— I wanted to be their spokesperson. I decided to become a citizen that represented other citizens through her writing.
I recall one particular screenplay I wrote about young rebel soldiers that required laborious hours of research. I remember carrying armfuls of library books, reading online blogs and taking notes until my fingers calloused. I read anything that could get me closer to depicting the realities of life in those war-torn nations. But it was not enough for me. This was an overwhelming socio-political issue and I felt I had to be involved in a deeper aspect.
I joined an organization called STAND – a student group that raised awareness, fundraised, and petitioned in order to help the victims and to end the genocide in Darfur. I attended the weekly on-campus meetings, participated in off-campus fundraisers for the community and became active in any way that I could. There was one tactic that we decided to use during Genocide Awareness Week which remains with me. In an effort to present a “wake-up call” to our community, I took part in a “mock-death.” All of us STAND members decided to take shifts between our classes where we would lie on the ground wrapped in black garbage bags in the blazing sun.
I remember perspiring profusely while my face brushed against the grainy cement where I could hear the university students fraternize with one another as they hurried to and from their classes. They walked over my lifeless body, taking time to read the sign I wore on my back; it was the name of a young innocent Darfurian girl killed in her hometown. I remember one student inadvertently dropping a cigarette butt inches from my nose. “Am I invisible?” I thought. Just like the soldiers lying dead on the Sudan soil—perhaps I was. Though my body was on campus, I took my mind, heart and spirit to Darfur. I was mourning, hurt and confused. As I crawled out of my garbage bag and prepared to go to my next class, I remember thinking, “This is how it feels to be a representative for the other citizens in the world.”
It is amazing how a single idea I was passionate about was fostered in the classroom (where I was encouraged by my peers and screenwriting instructors) and as a result inspired me to act within my community. That is what my university did for me and continues to do. It’s not just a “class-room university” but a “life-preparation university.” You don’t just research thesis statements, but you lie outside wrapped in a black garbage bag doing a simulation of a dead civilian in Sudan. That’s real life and that it what the University of Michigan prepares you for.
Though I have already graduated, the life-lessons I’ve learned inside and outside the classroom will forever resonate in my life. As I am currently working on my feature length screenplay, I’ve been met with the usual obstacles all writers experience: discouragement, doubts and distractions. During these times, I reflect on what I learned at the university and that enables me to conquer the difficult moments in my writing career. I recall the guest speakers who were invited to speak at the University, speakers such as Eric Champnella (writer of Mr. 3000), Josh Olson (writer of A History of Violence), Sam Bobrick (creator of Saved by the Bell) and many other successful individuals who all constantly emphasized one very important sentiment: Never give up. And I never have.
In our fight song, when we shout “the leaders and best,” I take it very seriously. I do not see the University of Michigan as just being a leader amongst other universities, but I witness how they equip, encourage and empower their students to be leaders. I myself am an example of that.
For that, I am a grateful alumna.
Kenata Martins is a graduate from the University of Michigan with her B.A. in Sociology and Screen Arts & Cultures with a sub-concentration in Screenwriting. She is currently working on her fourth feature length screenplay and first novel.