Building Bridges Conference to Focus on Education

Posted on February 12th, 2009 by

Erin Gruwell will be one of the keynote speakers at this year’s Building Bridges Conference.

Erin Gruwell will be one of the keynote speakers at this year’s Building Bridges Conference.

Gustavus Adolphus College will host its 14th annual Building Bridges Conference Saturday, March 14. The theme of this year’s conference is “Liberation through Education” and will focus on educational inequality in the U.S. and abroad and the important influence an education has on an individual’s future.

Erin Gruwell, the real life hero portrayed in the 2007 film Freedom Writers, and Maria Reyes, one of Ms. Gruwell’s first students and an original Freedom Writer, are the keynote speakers. Gruwell stepped into a classroom of “unteachable” students in 1994, and through unique teaching methods was able to inspire the students to find their own voices. Against all odds, all 150 students graduated from high school and most went on to higher education. Reyes, a third generation gang member, was given the choice to stay in a detention center or go to school. Choosing school, she landed in Gruwell’s classroom.

The schedule for the daylong conference is as follows:

  • 9 a.m. / Registration in the Charles C. Jackson Campus Center
  • 10 a.m. / Opening; “I Am…We Are” social justice theatrical performance; keynote addresses in Christ Chapel
  • 12:30 p.m. / Lunch (on your own)
  • 2-5 p.m. / Workshop Sessions in the Charles C. Jackson Campus Center
  • 5 p.m. / Interactive literacy action piece in the Lund Forum

At 5 p.m. in Lund Center, 70 local first through fourth graders will be invited to take part in a number of activities themed around the popular book The Very Hungry Caterpillar to encourage literacy. Volunteers and participants will read, make crafts, build a book, and make caterpillar bookmarks. Healthy snacking and physical activities will also be promoted. Parents who would like their children to participate may contact the co-chairs of the conference via e-mail at

The conference is open to the public, but tickets are required and may be purchased in advance. Tickets are $8 per person, but are complimentary for college students, high school students, and Gustavus students, faculty, and staff with a valid I.D. For more information and to register for the conference, visit the conference website at or contact the Gustavus Diversity Center at (507) 933-7449.

In addition to planning and running the March 14 event, the Building Bridges Conference committee also organized a book drive on campus and in the communities of St. Peter and Mankato. The book drive ran from October through January and collected 26,000 books that were then sold online with the proceeds going to the non-profit group Invisible Children.

Building Bridges is a student-led, student-initiated diversity conference dedicated to addressing today’s pressing social and global issues. The conference works to increase awareness and action, promoting mutual respect and understanding about diversity. These aims are achieved through inspirational speakers supplemented by interactive workshops and action steps.


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin


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