“You are extraordinary!” UW’s new chancellor told Odyssey alumni as she visited Odyssey’s South Madison home on her second day on the job. Odyssey Codirector Emily Auerbach welcomed Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin, gave her a brief overview of Odyssey’s 20-year history, and rapidly turned the program over to six alumni. Char Braxton, Odyssey ’06, read an emotional poem about her guidance counselor labeling her “not college material.” The chancellor responded that public universities have a responsibility to change lives through education, “but sometimes it takes alchemy. It’s clear that alchemy is here.”
Keena Atkinson, Odyssey ’10, spoke of being homeless and sleeping on the floor of a barbershop when she applied for Odyssey; she now has her UW bachelor’s degree and a son heading off to college. Hezouwe Walada, Odyssey ’19, who walked barefoot to reach the nearest village school, spoke of the way Odyssey revived his dream of becoming a doctor. And René Robinson, Odyssey ’08, told the chancellor Odyssey’s impact was multigenerational. Anthony Ward, Odyssey ’04, and Brian Benford, Odyssey ’07, praised Odyssey’s transformational effect but also called on the chancellor to address glaring racial disparities at UW and in Madison, Dane County, and Wisconsin.
“What you shared was extraordinary,” Chancellor Mnookin said. “And this is a space that helped you find your own strengths. To be able to live them is an incredible thing and exactly what we should be doing as a public university.”