Olivia Connor '20 recently traveled to South Bend, Indiana, where she gave an open lecture titled "Storytelling for Justice: Harnessing a Child's Mind Towards Enduring Change" to undergraduate students at the University of Notre Dame. Over the last two years, she has authored a series of children's books on equity, inclusion, diversity, and justice, and was invited to Notre Dame after a video of her talking about her books caught the eye of a university professor. Read on to learn more about Olivia's journey, why she chose to write children's books on these particular topics, and how Gulliver helped her along the way.
Q: Tell us about your experience at Notre Dame.
A: I received a warm welcome from all the students and staff members I encountered. They were very engaged and had many questions. My lecture was called "Storytelling for Justice: Harnessing a Child's Mind Towards Enduring Change," and besides the lecture, I was able to visit and speak in two classes. In a philosophy of education class, I spoke about my process in writing the books and my major challenges, and then participated in a discussion about the importance of explicitly familiarizing children with civic values. In a Spanish children's literature class called 'Once Upon a Time,' I spoke about the books specifically and my personal experiences growing up in a bilingual community.
Q: How did Gulliver prepare you for an opportunity like speaking to a college-level class?
A: I would say that giving presentations in my classes throughout the years prepared me to speak in front of a more difficult crowd. I also had the opportunity to practice public speaking because of the clubs I am involved in, such as the student council.
Q: Why did you choose to write children's books in general, and specifically on the topics of equity, inclusion, diversity, and justice?
A: I have personally found that the best way to create lasting, effective change in society is by educating children on the values that matter. I think that shaping children into positive agents of change from a young age allows them to grow up being aware of civic values. It teaches them about diversity, inclusion, equity, and justice to a full extent.
Q: What teachers or particular classes have been instrumental in your writing these books?
A: Dr. Michael Kokozos has been one of my main inspirations. Through his IB Global Politics class, I have found myself feeling passionate about these issues and much more informed about them. He has been an unspeakably valuable mentor to me, and has opened my eyes to a new perspective on politics.
Q: What do you hope children who read your books will learn?
A: I hope that children will be able to deeply understand the concepts of these civic values and be able to apply them to their individual lives and communities. I hope that they will be inspired to make a difference on their own, and to encourage others to be good people and good members of society.
Q: Do you plan to continue writing children's books, or other books?
A: Definitely! I hope to write more books for the civic values series, possibly one on peace. More generally, I hope to continue writing, sharing my story, and educating others. I plan to continue working in my community and helping others in every way that I can.
Olivia serves as Student Council Vice President and is a member of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, Rho Kappa, and the Italian Honor Society. She has played varsity volleyball for three years, is a part of the Baby Bulls program under the Achieve Miami Organization, and is a board member for both the Italian Club and Environmental Club. She has also teamed up with a friend to start an organization called Breakout Volleyball, bringing volleyball training to elementary and middle school girls in inner-city schools in Miami.