The Writing Center was filled with chatter and coffee Wednesday morning, Feb. 26. Author of Troy’s 2013-2014 Common Reading Initiative, Francis Slakey, visited campus to meet with students and share some insight on his story, “To the Last Breath.”
On couches and cushioned chairs sat Writing Center tutors, faculty and eager students alike, and Slakey sat comfortably as one of them. The close and casual atmosphere made asking questions and getting in-depth and relatable answers easy. Slakey showed endless interest in the students—their jobs at the Writing Center, personal projects they were working on, what books they were reading, etc. When he humbly got around to discussing his book and it’s publishing process, Slakey admitted that he had never thought of writing a book.
“If you can’t download something on the Internet, it never happened,” his wife, Gina, pointed out to him. He wrote a short piece that was published on the online magazine, Slate—and it attracted a lot of attention. Slakey received voicemail after voicemail from interested agents.
“It felt sleezy,” Slakey said about his first experience with agents. “Like they were marketing my life.”
Eventually, he found one that, instead of talking business and book covers, asked the serious and important questions. Slakey was eased into writing “To the Last Breath,” and he enjoyed it.
“Writing is a lot like golf. You can absolutely suck at it, but, when you get that one perfect shot, it’s worth it—like when you get that perfect sentence,” Slakey said.
When asked how he thought students benefited from meeting and speaking with him, Slakey said “They can see that it’s not a black box — it’s approachable.”
Almost immediately following the intimate chat, the book signings, and the pictures, Slakey appeared in the Trojan Center Theatre for an almost full-house lecture. There he spoke more about his journey—the struggles and the triumphs.
He described his life before he decided to change as analytical and detached.
“I was boring,” he said.
And once he began his journey, it was all that mattered.
Slakey explained to the attentive audience what it was like reaching the summit of Mt. Everest.
“It’s like running ten wind sprints. And you’ve just finished the last 100 yards and your hands are on your knees, and you’re trying to breathe through a cocktail straw.” He showed numerous pictures of his travels, the people and the places, and even had an audience member try on all of the gear he had to wear on his right foot alone—which was a lot.
Then Slakey went into detail about being ambushed in Indonesia. He single-handedly proved and published that the Indonesian military was to blame, and with the help of an ambush survivor, convinced Congress to withhold funding until a deeper investigation could be conducted.
“When you push for justice, not another mountain to climb, not another wave to surf—when you push for justice you can make things right. It changed me.”
After his journey, Slakey saw the world in a different light. It was no longer just a list of geographical challenges to conquer.
Before his epic journey, Slakey was a physics teacher who looked only at the facts. He stood with his back to the class, talking and scribbling on the chalkboard. His teaching was changed and inspired by his adventures, and he now encourages his students to go out and see the world and to try to change it for the better.
“Education doesn’t just live within the walls of a university. The universe is clothed in formulas, but it speaks in stories.”