Kiese Laymon, author of How To Slowly Kill Yourself And Others in America, visited Albion College this past Thursday, September 10. Laymon is an author and professor of English at Vassar College in New York, a small liberal arts school similar to Albion. Laymon drew from his experiences as a student and as a college professor while he spoke to students gathered in Goodrich Chapel.
Laymon thanked the committee that chose his book for the First Year Experience CRE (Common Reading Experience), saying, “I can’t believe you chose a book that had ‘how to slowly kill yourself’ in the title, but thank you, it’s a great feeling.”
He was incredibly personable and obviously felt right at home with the audience, sporting an oversized red hoodie, plaid shirt, camouflage shorts and Adidas tennis shoes with no socks. Laymon explained his laid-back approach: “This is what I wear to teach; my momma hates it. She wears her Sunday best every day. I don’t wear this to set myself apart from other professors, this is what I am comfortable in.”
He covered a variety of topics including family, racism and education, but the topic that stuck the most was becoming better human beings. However, before he spoke he shared a disclaimer with the audience: “I just wrote this last night. I hate when students say that, but it’s true, I did it last night.” Kiese also reassured the audience that his speech would not be long or drawn out, it would be short and sweet and leave time for discussion afterward.
“Students, please do not be afraid to use the next four years of your life to work on loving and compassionately assisting the college and the city of Albion to become better at being human,” he said. He broke this topic down from an educator’s standpoint all the way to a student’s.
Laymon also focused on making sure students know that they should demand more from their institution if they feel they are not getting enough. “Kids are demanding to be educated much differently than we [adults] were,” he said. “Instead of calling those students needy, entitled, casting them as unprepared or whispering to one another, ‘Is there something wrong with this generation?’ I wonder what happens if we collectively as (individuals) submit to becoming radical, compassionate, anti-oppression models of care and education that we never had.”
These thoughts suggested that students can be better at being humans with the best guidance, resources, and personal effort. Part of having the best guidance and resources means that they must start taking advantage of the resources offered to them.
Laymon admitted, “I went all through college without using the counseling services, advisers, or services offered to me and still graduated with a 3.8, but I was not good; I was not okay.”
He encouraged students to not make his mistake.
He then asked, “How much more would we mean to our students, ourselves and our nation if we felt entitled to collectively demand that our institutions make that type of education for ourselves and for our students?”
As he continued speaking about the power a good professor can have on an education, heads of several Albion professors in the crowd nodded along in agreement.
Laymon’s speech encouraged the audience members to work on themselves, help one another, and demand more of themselves and others. He challenged students to ask the tough questions and to strive for more than mediocre.
Photo by Cara Henry