The entire freshman class, along with faculty and some upperclassmen, gathered in the Bradley Center to hear Benjamin Nugent speak about his book, "American Nerd: The Story of my People" for Opening Convocation on Sept. 12.
Every fall, Opening Convocation welcomes students to the beginning of a new academic year with the author of the book they read over the summer, giving students the opportunity to connect with the summer reading assignment on a deeper level. The book is also analyzed in the freshmen's First Year Seminar for the first few weeks.
"The convocation was a lot more interesting than the book itself," freshman Emily Brock said, "but I still felt as if Nugent himself was unsure of where he was truly going with his speech."
Nugent began his speech by jokingly asking the audience what kind of school chooses "American Nerd" as its summer reading. He then proceeded to explain that Ramapo College reminds him of a nerd because of its relatively small enrollment, intelligent students and prestigious reputation.
Nugent then used his own experience to illustrate what not to do in college to the audience. He said that he wanted to reinvent himself in college, so he chose to live in the loud, smoking dorm even though he considered himself a quiet, non-smoking person. He wanted to fit in with the popular kids and obsessed about what others thought of him. He even wore a suit to move-in day because he thought that attire would instantly make him friends. Instead of following his interests and being happy with who he was, he tried to make himself into something he wasn't.
Nugent's message to the audience was to "find something you're obsessed with and block all other things out."
Nugent also touched on the topic of bullying, specifically in relation to nerds. Instead of preaching to the audience about how bullying needs to end, he said that it is inevitable.
"Bullying is cruelty and cruelty cannot be stopped," Nugent said.
In his novel, Nugent revealed that he was bullied as a child.
During his speech, Nugent advised the students not to feel pressured into figuring themselves out now. He said that everyone should explore their interests instead of following the classified stereotypes that people put themselves in.
For example, if someone has been labeled a nerd, he may not be disposed to trying activities or socializing with people who are outside of his "nerd bubble." Nugent compared this classification to checkboxes on a survey. He said the students should not feel pressured into checking "jock," "emo" or "nerd," but to instead follow their interests and be happy.
"Check no boxes so that you can truly see," Nugent said.
Adjunct professor Kelly Buchta said she was pleased with Nugent's speech and said that it was "entertaining with a purpose and underlying message."
Though freshmen attendance was required for First Year Seminar students, freshman Jaclyn Hockenjos said she surprisingly enjoyed the Convocation.
"Nugent's speech wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be," Hockenjos said. "The information he shared helped me with my essay for my First Year Seminar class."