After a panel on diversity, this student reflects on the extraordinary lives of the panelists, who were often discriminated against because of their nationality, economic background, or sexual orientation, but who were able to become successful individuals. The person who impressed this student most is Renee Firestone, a Holocaust survivor who later became a clothing designer in the United States. Renee’s family was cruelly killed in Auschwitz, sent to die in the gas chambers. After Renee survived the camp, she left for the United States, arriving in the new country with only four dollars in her pocket. She concludes her presentation with the important injunction to never judge people collectively, since that is precisely what gave way to such a horrific event as the Holocaust.
Other people’s success stories serve as inspiration for Ms. Gruwell’s students, who realize that it is possible for individuals to overcome even the most difficult circumstances—presenting a narrative of individual success that they might not be used to. Renee demonstrates that one can be both successful and extraordinarily resilient without giving up one’s values. She shows that one can draw useful lessons from difficult moments in the past and learn from them in order not to perpetuate the harm that one has suffered. Revenge, she concludes, is not the solution.
After the panel, the students are able to dine with the panelists at the Century City Marriott, where Ms. Gruwell has special advantages since she works there on the weekend. At dinner, Renee shows the student the tattoo she was given to identify her during the holocaust and tells the story of a person whose doctor told her to suck the ink out of her tattoo because her number was going to be called that day. This student realizes that everything s/he experienced today is connected to what they have been learning in class, and feels deeply inspired by the people she has met, who make the books they have read come to life.
Renee’s story about the doctor demonstrates that not everyone working for the Nazis was an evil person. Her injunction never to judge a group of people collectively thus applies to the victims as well as the perpetrators of crimes during World War II. This student realizes that hands-on experiences such as this one, in which historical events come to life, is an important complement to school, making classroom work more convincing and memorable.