HNU Event Highlights National Steinbeck Center Project


Executive Director of the National Steinbeck Center Colleen Bailey

When the staff at the National Steinbeck Center gathered to decide what to do for their annual festival, which would mark the 75th year since the publication of The Grapes of Wrath, they were struck by the parallels they saw between modern events and the setting of John Steinbeck’s legendary tale.

There was a drought in California, terrible storms across the country, and national discourse about immigration and health care, Executive Director of the National Steinbeck Center Colleen Bailey said during an HNU panel on March 5.

“What we decided to do is to embark on a journey … into the United States to ask people what was happening for them and to connect that up with John Steinbeck’s work—to look at what has changed in these 75 years and, most importantly, what are our struggles and what are our sources of resilience during these difficult times,” Bailey said.

The HNU event detailed the October 2013 journey made by center staff, a film crew, and three artists, following the path of the Joad family in The Grapes of Wrath, from Sallisaw, Oklahoma, to Bakersfield, California. The 10-day trip collected more than 70 oral histories from people around the country and included 17 workshops and programs.

“I think there’s an eloquent way, there’s a powerful way, there’s an effective way to make your voice heard and to inspire,” said Patricia Wakida, the block-print artist on the trip. “I think that’s what this book does incredibly well, and I hope that by actually going around and collecting people’s stories and encouraging them to tell from themselves that they go through that similar process.”

The artists commissioned for this project—a block-print artist, a filmmaker, and a playwright and director—were asked to take what they learned from the trip and create new works of art. The full works commissioned by the artists will be unveiled at the 2014 Steinbeck Festival in May. The festival will also include presentations by Susan Shillinglaw, a specialist in Steinbeck’s work, and Rick Wartzman, who will discuss the banning and burning of The Grapes of Wrath in Kern County in August 1939.

“The book, although it’s set in the 1930s, it’s really not about the 1930s. It’s still so true in 2014. And it’s not just an American book—it’s about people and about America in the 1930s—but people who are dispossessed … (are) all over the planet,” filmmaker P.J. Palmer said. “It’s happening now. So I found the book timeless in a way.”

The HNU event also featured music by Arwen Lawrence and Jorge Liceaga of Cascada de Flores.

Octavio Solis, a playwright and director commissioned by the National Steinbeck Center, talks about his experiences traveling from Oklahoma to California with other artists and center staff.

Octavio Solis, a playwright and director commissioned by the National Steinbeck Center, talks about his experiences traveling from Oklahoma to California with other artists and center staff.

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Series Prepares Students for Life After College

The Backpacks to Briefcase series, a collection of workshops and events focused on the transition to life after college, is taking place throughout the spring semester. Organized by Director of the Career Center Sam Rodriguez and HNU Experience Coordinator Andrea Melrose Guimaraes, series topics range from writing a strong resume, to managing finances, to finding a place to live.

Assistant Director of Housing and Residence Life Justin Vacca and Melrose Guimaraes led the My First Place workshop on April 1, which they designed to address issues students have in renting their first apartments. They covered rental searches, lease agreements, renters’ rights, and money matters, such as household budgets and deposits.

“Our students are unclear about what their rights are in terms of … need(ing) 24-hour notice before a landlord enters their apartments, what their rights are in terms of contracts, … what are reasonable first and last month’s rent,” Melrose Guimaraes said. “I think a lot of our students don’t have that knowledge because it is a new process for them—so (the workshop is important for) making sure that they’re … looking at their contract, and they’re asking good questions, and they’re doing comprehensive walkthroughs.”

Several workshops have focused on career development, teaching students strategies for developing effective resumes and cover letters, using social media for employment opportunities, and conducting successful job searches. The February 19 workshop featured Judson Walsh, the director of business development for the San Francisco Business Times, who discussed utilizing local market information to identify prospective employers, job leads, and networking opportunities.

Three forthcoming events continue the series’ emphasis on professional development. The Destination Law School Diversity Panel will take place on April 9 and feature a number of practicing lawyers who will speak on overcoming adversity and their educational experiences. On April 15, students will have the opportunity to talk with numerous employers at the Career Fair. That evening, the Etiquette Dinner will provide guidance to students on the basic skills of business communication. The event, which will include a presentation by Manager of College Recruiting and Training for Northern California Greg Clefisch from Southern Wine & Spirits, is being organized with the assistance of Frances Renty Williams, director of alumnae/i relations at HNU.

“It’s important for graduating students to plan and prepare for their next steps after graduation,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve invited speakers to talk about the job search and how to plan it strategically.” The Career Fair and Etiquette Dinner are signature events that provide networking opportunities and help students with their transition from college to work, he added.

Additional workshops included two financial planning sessions led by Nikki Beasley, branch manager of Citibank in Oakland, who talked to students about saving money and getting out of debt.

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Catholic Sisters Week Celebrated at HNU

To celebrate National Catholic Sisters Week, Holy Names’ Sisters presented an excerpt of the film Band of Sisters, which chronicles the lives of Catholic nuns after the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II). At each of the three film presentations that took place this month, in conjunction with Women’s History Month, two Holy Names’ Sisters described their own experiences after Vatican II.

The film focused on changes within the Catholic community after Vatican II took place in the early 1960s. In response to Pope John XXIII’s call to engage with the world and devote oneself to the needs of the poor, Sisters broadened their commitment to service, focusing on issues that had not been addressed by the Catholic Church previously. Sisters had long played a role in nursing and teaching, but in the 1960s many Sisters became involved in grass roots activism that focused on unions, housing rights, and a more expansive view of human rights.

“We’re the risk takers in the church. We are down there with the people. We know what the needs are,” said Sister Lillian Murphy in Band of Sisters. Sr. Lillian, a member of the Sisters of Mercy order, is the chief executive officer of Mercy Housing, which provides affordable housing for low income families, seniors, and people with special needs.

Sisters Maureen Hester and Carol Sellman talked about how Vatican II affected them at the March 21 presentation of the film.

Sr. Maureen Hester said that Vatican II was not planned when she entered the order in 1954, but it created a “great, rich environment” for her. She talked about the significant changes that took place on the Holy Names campus after Vatican II—becoming coeducational and increasingly diverse—and her own role as a faculty member and head of the psychology department. “It opened up a new way of thinking,” Sr. Maureen said.

Sister Carol Sellman, who entered the SNJM community in 1965, said at the time they were “just beginning . . . to understand what the changes in religious life might be.” She said that some Sisters found these changes—from wearing a full habit to a modified version, to dropping the habit’s headpiece all together, to returning to their given names rather than their religious names—to be difficult, while other Sisters welcomed the changes. Sr. Carol emphasized that the work of Vatican II took place during a period of great social activism that provided a fresh “opportunity for women who felt called to social service,” so that Sisters who had real skills for justice and peace work were able to use their gifts in new ways.

Sisters Donna Maynard and Sophia Park also discussed their experiences at a presentation of the film on March 17, and Sister Chris Patrinos presented with Sr. Carol on March 19.

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