I've been to many amazing colleges and universities over the years.
One of the questions I've been asked a number of times, both on the road, and around home is, "What's your favorite school you've ever visited?"
If this came down to only: 1) Awesome people and 2) Total # of engagements, both Cal Poly Pomona and UC Riverside would easily top the list (thanks to Lorena Marquez and Toi Thibodeaux, respectively.
However, I think what people like to hear about are the out-of-state schools. So, this list will focus on those. Because, who doesn't want to hear about some cool travel destinations?
1) Location, location, location!
2) People I worked with
3) How the show went
5) Return trips?
#5 - Drexel University (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
1) I'm not going to even try to lie to you. The main reason why I was so excited to go to the "City of Brotherly Love" wasn't its colonial history, or even its Philly cheesesteaks, it was because of my unabashed love of the Rocky/Creed film franchise. And, the day after my performance, in the wee hours of the morning before my outbound flight, I visited that shrine to cinema history and the sweet science: the Rocky statue at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
After that, I ran up the steps, the Rocky theme playing in my mind, "Getting strong now!"
Drexel University was also surrounded by some pretty amazing colleges and universities that I quickly checked out after my performance.
2) Gabby Tremoglie and the Campus Activities Board (CAB) were very friendly and extremely helpful!
For this trip (during my second year touring), I made two big mistakes: I flew in right before the show, and I showed up without enough money to pay for my cab fare (but took the cab from the airport to Drexel anyways). Gabby saved the day by having some cash ready on hand and met me outside and paid the driver!
3) A big part of why Drexel University will always be such a special experience is because of how great the audience was. Here was a case of where I was only originally scheduled to perform for only 30 minutes, however, the audience enjoyed each poem so much, was so engaged by my stories and the games I had them play, and would demand to hear more and more poems (even being happy to listen to me read a number of them from my books), that I probably ended up performing for an hour and a half.
Also, in somewhat irregular fashion, this was one of the few times when almost the entire audience stayed for an unofficial Q&A after the event was officially over. They stood up, and instead of (only) coming to me one at a time to talk or take pictures, they stood in a circle and listened to the answers I gave to each question as a group. This lasted for at least a half hour, if not longer. They asked a wide range of questions, and I was very happy to stay and answer them.
4) Nothing much to speak of in the way of amenities.
5) Never got to go back! Gabby graduated unfortunately, and I never heard back from other CAB members. Drexel is definitely a place I would like to spend more time at.
#4 - University of Memphis (Memphis, Tennessee)
1) Memphis is a very interesting city. It's an old city, with lots of history. Visiting Beale St. with its bars blasting rock n' roll and the blues at all hours of the days and night and the National Civil Rights Museum attached to the Lorraine Motel (where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated), are incomparable and unforgettable experiences.
Memphis is also a city on the cusp of gigantic changes. Large numbers of Latin@s are moving into the area and numerous storefronts Downtown, previously closed down, are being re-opened for new businesses and organizations. I believe the city will be one to watch in terms of economic status and cultural impact on the national stage in the coming years.
2) Eric Bailey, Coordinator for the Office of Multicultural Affairs, and Linda Hall, Associate Dean of Multicultural Affairs, were both incredibly professional and welcoming. Eric and I especially hit it off; which was great, because he was kind enough to drive me to a performance at a satellite campus in Jackson, and back. Eric and I had a fun time connecting as both professionals and friends, and our conversation ranged over a variety of topics. Students even joked about how well we were getting along with each other, calling us "new besties."
The hosting organization on the main campus, the Hispanic Student Association, was also incredibly friendly. They invited me to eat with them 3 times.
3) The show was phenomenal! Performed in a large ballroom on a large stage with a large screen for the slideshow performances. It was a formal event, so everyone was dressed up. Lots of students, professors, and even high-level administrators were in attendance. Everyone enjoyed my performance and much merch was sold and many pictures were taken!
4) Eric dropped me off at the National Civil Rights Museum. He also drove me to numerous places, pointing things out along the way. Many of my meals were covered. I was also very generously compensated for my services as well as for travel and lodging.
5) Talked to Eric and the Hispanic Student Association about returning Fall 2016. Fell through, but the door is still open...
#3 - University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
Were it not for sentimental reasons attached to #2 and #1 on this list, UWM would probably occupy a spot at the very top!
1) The city of Milwaukee is one of the most charming "small metropolises" I've ever visited in my life. A city with plenty of bars, restaurants, and cultural centers, and with a Downtown with a number of skyscrapers, but Milwaukee still doesn't feel big enough to get swallowed up by, or lost in.
Milwaukee is right off of Lake Michigan, and the Milwaukee River goes through the city as well. There's a lighthouse and beaches. Walkways by, and bridges over, the river. Multiple areas of the city are gorgeous.
2) There could not be an organization more hospitable than the Tau Chapter of Zeta Sigma Chi Multicultural Sorority, Inc. They took me out to multiple meals (especially at local Mexican restaurant Bel Air), took me on tours through the city, and even invited me to hang out with them for drinks and to attend cultural events. Special thanks go out to president Keaunis Grant and chair Cinthia Tellez!
3) Attendance at the events was never super high, but there was a great level of engagement. Sometimes energy levels in the crowd will dip as a performance and/or workshop goes on, but at UWM, each time it would rise, as students would share their stories and/or poems. There were a couple of very powerful and moving moments.
Both times, Jakayla Phillips, with the student newspaper Media Milwaukee, came out to cover the events.
4) The sorority arranged stays in the Kenilworth apartments near campus. They also treated me to meals, cultural events, and drove me around for multiple tours of the city.
The promotion of each event was also fantastic. Huge posters and banners were produced. They made sure I had copies of almost everything.
5) UWM is the only out-of-state school that has ever brought me in twice within a fiscal year (fall through spring). Zeta Sigma Chi Multicultural Sorority, Inc. - TAU Chapter brought me out both times and has mentioned the possibility of bringing me out again!
#2 - University of Central Florida (Orlando, Florida)
University of Central Florida is the first out-of-state engagement I was ever booked for (signed the contract - - ended up being my second out-of-state performance).
1) HUGE campus. Although, I only got to see a small part of it. The airport was really cool though. It was made up of all kinds of sections, resembling islands almost more than terminals, connected by rails. It seemed like an amusement park, almost (which, I guess makes sense, because of DisneyWorld being nearby).
The area that I performed in on campus was in a large ballroom on a large stage with a large screen for the slideshow.
2) Brittany Knight and the rest of the Campus Activities Board (CAB) were really energetic and friendly. They sent two people to pick me up from the airport with signs with my name welcoming me! They all stayed to take a number of group pictures after the show too!
3) I probably went a little long, but put on an amazing performance, and the students seemed to really enjoy it. Students bought merch, asked me questions, and took photos with me afterwards.
4) They made 50-100 coffee mugs with my name on them! I got to take 4 of them home. I have never experienced anything like it since.
CAB also made sure to invite their student media to come and we did a video interview before the show.
5) No such luck. My student contact graduated, and unfortunately, her successors have decided to go in different directions. I'd love to come back, though!
#1 - Champlain College (Burlington, Vermont)
Champlain College, too, will always have a special place in my heart because it was my first out-of-state engagement. That being said, it isn't only that fact that makes it special:
1) Lake Champlain, and the surrounding area full of trees, is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been in my life. I touched down from my flight, walked out of the airport, and was walking through an autumn wonderland: full of old houses without fences or gates, and streets lined with tall trees with brown, yellow, and orange leaves.
Champlain College itself was a beautiful campus, situated a few hundred feet away from Lake Champlain, and surrounded by a number of other beautiful campuses.
2) I worked with Jennifer Jang with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. She made sure that I met all of the students I would be working with and we had a large Chinese meal, served family style in a student lounge area, before the performance. Very kind and welcoming. I remember that she gave me a tumbler and a shirt with the school's logo on it as a "thank you" present.
Jennifer is the first person to have encouraged me to write a personal contract.
3) The first time I ever did a full run of my slideshow performance, it was probably not my best performance ever, but the students were great. They came in waves, and each wave brought a unique energy. Some interacted with me during my performance, and many stayed to ask questions and buy merch.
4) Not much to report here aside from the Chinese food and the shirt and tumbler. Oh yeah! There was also the fresh coffee that was given to me.
5) I've talked to Jennifer about coming back to Champlain, but so far, it hasn't been in the cards.
Hey! So there are all kinds of honorable mentions that didn't make this list, that would be high up there on a longer one: St. Andrews University, McDaniel College, Queens University of Charlotte, Sewanee: University of the South, Lone Star College - Kingwood, Spokane Community College, and Loyola University Chicago, just to name a few!
Looking forward to traveling to more cities! Keep an eye on this blog for more travel exploits.