Wil Smith was not a typical Bowdoin College student. He matriculated to the Maine school at the age of 28 after first enlisting in the U.S. Navy and serving in the first Gulf War.
That wasn’t the only thing that set him apart.
In an emotional audio interview recorded through an independently funded organization known as StoryCorps, Smith recounted how he secretly came to the school as a single parent and told nobody of his infant daughter, Olivia. He spoke of how he would take his daughter with him to his night job at Staples as he tried to provide for them both. Eventually, the school community did find out about his secret, and formed a support group for Smith and Olivia.
As he spoke with his now adult daughter in the interview, Smith became noticeably emotional as he recounted his graduation in 2000.
“My graduation day from Bowdoin is a day I’ll never forget,” said Smith, who walked across stage with his diploma in one hand and Olivia in the other. “All of my classmates, they stood up and gave me the only standing ovation.”
Smith, who graduated from law school and went on to serve as associate dean of multicultural student programs at Bowdoin, told his daughter, “I draw my strength from you. I always have.”
Smith died in 2015 at the age of 46 after battling colon cancer.
While nobody knew at the time of the StoryCorps recording what Smith’s future would hold, because this interview between father and daughter was recorded and preserved, it will be a special piece of history that both she and anyone who hears it will be able to treasure.
Since its inception more than a dozen years ago, StoryCorps has captured more than 100,000 such conversations from Americans of all walks of life. Like StoryCorps, many of our clients at Chesapeake Systems also capture and store important content every day, whether it be powerful news stories, video interviews, performances, speeches, game day highlights, etc.
In 2015, StoryCorps’ founder and executive director Dave Isay, a former radio journalist, won the TED prize and used the million-dollar prize to create a StoryCorps mobile application. Users of the free app record 11-12 minute interviews and then upload them to the Library of Congress.
Over Thanksgiving of 2015, StoryCorps invited students across the country to record an interview with an elder through the “Great Thanksgiving Listen” project. You can read (or listen) to more about the project in this NPR interview with Diane Rehm.
At Chesapeake Systems, my colleagues and I are very connected to this notion of preservation. We work with organizations all over the commercial spectrum, in non-commercial areas and with various types of interest groups representing a broad extreme of perspectives, attitudes, opinions and agendas. In the same way that StoryCorps captures everyday experiences and shines a very brilliant light on the humanity behind them, we at Chesapeake Systems want to help our clients with the tools that will enable them to record their own slices of reality from various perspectives.
We’re still very much at the beginning of the Internet era, and things are not only going to change in the 21st Century, they are going to change drastically. As quickly as technology changes, we have to pay close attention to not only saving our content, but how we preserve it. The file formats we use today can easily become obsolete in a decade, putting them into what’s known as the digital dark age.
We want to help our clients understand the historical significance of the content they create every day and its potential educational impact down the line. Whether they are conducting a humanitarian interview such as StoryCorps, writing an online article about law enforcement and the black community, or recording an amazing sports feat, all of it will help to give people 100 years from now a glimpse into our early 21st Century lives. Even our most banal videos may prove to be of value beyond what we’re capable of understanding today.
To learn more about how Chesapeake Systems can help your organization with preservation, call 410-752-7729.