Gutsy activist advocates perseverance
May 9, 2007
By Laura Yates
In a skinny black dress and heels, Erin Brockovich stirred up visions of Julia Robert's Oscar-winning portrayal of her, made famous in the 2000 hit.
It wasn't Brockovich's style that captivated the audience, though. It was her message urging attendees to overcome adversity.
More than 1,000 students and other university community members filled Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium to hear Brockovich's inspirational story Tuesday night. Laughter and applause punctuated the hour-and-a-half speech.
"I was voted least likely to succeed in high school," Brockovich lamented. "I'm not a lawyer. I'm not a scientist. I'm not a politician. I'm just an ordinary person."
As depicted in the film, single mom Brockovich was hired as a file clerk for Masry and Vititoe law firm. There she discovered medical records that led to a lengthy investigation into the water quality of Hinkley, Calif. In 1996, Brockovich launched a pro bono lawsuit against Pacific Gas and Electric for leaking detrimental toxins and won $333 million in damages for more than 600 Hinkley residents.
Describing herself as an "environmentalist with cleavage," during her speech Brockovich said deceit is the root cause of many problems.
"Deceit robs us of information we need to know. Every person has a right to know the truth. The truth does set you free, but it is always going to piss you off first," she warned, speaking of lies she's faced throughout the years.
Information, she said, is the first stop toward change.
"We have to care because someday the other guy's problem is going to be our problem, and we are going to wish like hell someone had cared," she said.
Brockovich also described the need to overcome others' limited expectations.
"You need to decide who you're going to be; don't give that choice to others," she said, introducing "stick-to-itivness," a word taught to her by her mother.
"Living life by this word has inspired me to get out of the box of self-limitations everyone else put me in," she said.
Brockovich's message hit home for the more than 60 attendees who got to swap stories and hear advice from the celebrated environmentalist earlier Monday at a meet-and-greet sponsored by the alumnae group Women in Philanthropy. The event culminated the OHIO Women Making a Difference conference, held on campus this week. Student Sherry Spilker was thrilled about the chance to tell Brockovich about her specialization in Southeast Asia.
"She's a great inspiration," Spilker said, explaining excitedly that Brockovich offered to share with her the name of a friend in Cambodia. "I met her for two seconds, and she was willing to set me up with a contact."
Brockovich concluded her lecture with an open question-and-answer session during which audience members expressed their admiration for her work and concerns about local environmental issues.
In addition to lectures, Brockovich continues to work on environmental cases against large companies and is president of the consulting firm Brockovich Research and Consulting. She has hosted shows on ABC and Lifetime and wrote a book titled "Take It from Me, Life's a Struggle, but You Can Win."
This was the final Kennedy Lecture event for the year. Previous speakers included radio host Diane Rehm and motivational trio the Three Doctors.