Creating Her Own Story
The status quo is not something School of Communication senior Maggie Griffith is willing to accept. Neither is down time.
Griffith, of Moline, Ill., is the driving force behind a series of student-organized seminars advocating world change. She also uses her time outside the classroom, always at a premium, to tutor and volunteer for campus and Chicago-area theater projects.
“You’re never going to find time to do what is really important to you,” she says. “You have to make time.”
During the winter of her sophomore year, an ad in the Daily Northwestern for a spring-term student-organized seminar caught Griffith’s eye. The ad sought students with “an earnest desire to save the world.”
Immediately intrigued, she signed up for the seminar, which meets once a week like a regular class but does not have a professor or grades. The class, called Creating a New Story, served as an outlet for the 15 enrolled students to discuss “anything we saw wrong with the world,” touching on everything from environmental concerns to American foreign relations to spiritual issues.
For her final project at the end of the quarter, Griffith and three classmates — Matt McCormick, a senior in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences from Birmingham, Mich.; Gabriel Ervin, a Weinberg senior from Memphis; and Lauren Groth, a Weinberg junior from South Bend, Ind. — set out to continue the seminar the following year and give it more structure and a specific direction.
Griffith went to work. “I started reading books that summer to try to get an idea of where we wanted it to go,” she says. “Planning the class was basically my hobby for a year.”
Sociology professor Allan Schnaiberg, the group’s adviser, suggested readings and reviewed their plans for evaluating student work. Then he turned the course over to Griffith and her peers.
Griffith made up a syllabus with weekly assignments, a midterm and final and set up a 300-page packet of readings, including various articles and the class’s inspiration and cornerstone — Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit.
“When she initiated and took charge of the organization of this year’s class, I recognized just how dedicated she was to the ideas and the future students of the class,” Ervin says.
The group plans to continue the class this spring, and any student is free to sign up for it online as they would any other class. Students receive credit but no grade.
When she’s not writing syllabi, reading Daniel Quinn or critiquing America’s involvement in globalism, Griffith spends time with her other passion: theater.
Griffith has worked on 14 student productions at Northwestern, mostly in behind-the-scenes roles such as costume designer and crew member. Last year she directed Little Shop of Horrors.
If schoolwork, seminar planning and play rehearsals weren’t enough, Griffith also tutors home-schooled children and students at Evanston’s Dewey Elementary School.
She also volunteers with Dramagirls, a theater project for underprivileged children from the Chicago area. In the program, grammar school-age girls learn mural painting, shadow puppets and stage tricks like stilt walking by working with theater professionals. After six months of practice the kids put their new talents on display in a show at a local gymnasium. Griffith, who plans to pursue a master’s in education, focused her senior honors thesis on how drama in education can reach kids who struggle with traditional academics.
For Griffith, education is one way to change the world. “A big part of my life is my work with kids and my desire to improve education for all of them,” she says.
Griffith’s altruistic and challenge-the-status-quo nature stems from growing up in a progressive, culturally broad household. Her mother, a former social worker, often brought home troubled foster children when they needed a place to stay. Her mother is now an assistant state’s attorney for Rock Island County, Ill., where she prosecutes juvenile abuse and neglect cases.
“She always followed her own road, even if it contradicted with what women were supposed to do at the time,” Griffith says of her mother. “I like to think that carried over to me.”
— Mike DePilla (J04)