When celebrities like Bill Clinton come to Colgate, venues are packed. Tickets are bought far in advance, security is tight, college students even show up on time – if not early. But despite this enthusiasm for the upper tier of promotion, there is a whole range of celebrity speakers that come to campus but seem to pass just under the radar.
Sheryl Swoopes, a dedicated mother, world-class basketball player and best-selling author, came to speak on Thursday, February 3. First, Swoopes attended a small dinner at 110 Broad Street where she answered questions from about 40 representative students and faculty. At 7:00 p.m., she was driven up to Love Auditorium where she gave a talk on success. As she spoke, she delved deep into her own life story, challenges and accomplishments to inspire the audience.
“How many of you know exactly what you want to do after college?” Swoopes asked the 250- some wide-eyed audience members. “Now, of those people who raised their hands, how many of you know what it’s going to take to get you there?”
In a smooth, discursive and captivating style, Swoopes challenged the audience to consider their own goals and how hard they are working to get there. She brought the same message to the table that many of us dismiss daily: “As long as you believe in yourself, you can do anything you set your mind to.”
“I like that she emphasized how you sometimes have to go through struggle in order to reach success,” senior Kendra Brim said after attending both the dinner and the lecture.
Swoopes truly has a story of unprecedented success: she went from experiencing a relatively underprivileged childhood to becoming the first woman ever signed by the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), was a three-time MVP of the league and was popularly known as the female Michael Jordan. As she put it, every time her brothers or her peers told her she wasn’t good enough, or that as a girl she should not be playing, she responded by working harder to prove them all wrong.
Even with all her drive, “I got to a point in my life when I wasn’t sure I wanted to live any more. People look at me and my accomplishments and say, could it really be that bad? But I really got off track, I forgot what I stood for and believed in. At the age of 31, I really didn’t know if I could deal with the scrutiny of the public eye,” Swoopes said. This rough period followed the devastating public reaction to her decision to tell the world that she wanted to be with another woman.
“It took me about three or four years to get back on track [after my life fell apart],” Swoopes said. But her living message to the audience was that experiences like this can not only make you stronger, if you really believe in yourself you can deflect and overcome even malicious public scorn.
Although her message was heartfelt and honest, it was her approachable demeanor that captured the crowd.
“She was very personable. She was relatable, and did not let her celebrity status get in the way of us knowing who she was,” Brim said.
Outreach and program coordinator of ALANA (African, Latin, Asian, & Native American) Cultural Center Elise Bronzo, who was the woman responsible for making Swoopes’ visit a reality, agreed.
“I thought it was wonderful that she was so interactive with the crowd. I was really impressed that she was so open to answering questions, and so detailed in her answers,” Bronzo said.
Her most detailed response was the story she told about the most exciting moment in her basketball career: “When I actually got to play Michael Jordan one-on-one [in 1993],” Swoops said.
She responded thoughtfully to other questions too, however, divulging her opinion that “Maya Moore could be one of the best that has ever played the game,” and that “the hardest thing about the WNBA is staying focused – but you have to, because every day and night someone is fighting for your job.”
“We wanted to bring up someone who really represented a multitude of identities that students on campus can relate to. I think it’s rare that students can see themselves reflected in someone who comes to campus that also holds a certain amount of celebrity. I think that Sheryl represents an accomplished black woman, single mother and student athlete who is also LGBTQ,” Bronzo said.
The effort to appeal to a wide audience was clear from the impressive range of financial contributors to the event: CLSI, ALANA Cultural Center, The Wellness Initiative, Dean of the Faculty, Dean of the College, First-Year Experience, Sophomore Year Experience, Dean of Diversity, The 1934 House, Women’s Studies and The LGBTQ Department.
The diversity of the Love Auditorium crowd was a testament to the success of this effort. Faculty and staff, many members of the Hamilton community and a student population ranging across demographic groups came out to hear Swoopes’ message. But after signing a slew of autographs and posing for pictures, she was well ready to go back to a warmer climate and leave us to grapple with our snowy winter.