Zombie Novelist Brooks to Speak at Pitzer Commencement

On May 14, humans in white caps and gowns will muster forces on Pitzer’s new Commencement Lawn. At their helm will stand novelist and screenwriter Max Brooks PZ ‘94. As the author of The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z, Brooks will rally seniors with a commencement speech, preparing students to leave what has been their Safe House in Claremont for their entrance into an infected world.

Across campus, Zombie enthusiasts have come out of the woodwork, heralding Brooks’s election as a sign that the Humans vs. Zombies game has found a lasting niche on campus.

“It’s not just a game,” said Steve Jaworski PZ ’11, head organizer and moderator for Claremont’s Humans vs. Zombies week. “It is very real for a lot of people… it deals with some serious ethical and moral issues.”

Jaworski explained that Zombies can represent a number of things. While, in a literal sense, the zombies are members of an infected human race, Brooks’s book unpacks the fundamental idea of zombies as a generic “other.” As a student at Pitzer, Brooks majored in history, and in his novels, he draws on his background to create a world in which Zombies could be anything from an ex-friend, to Nazis, to the economy.

The Humans versus Zombies game, known by aficionados as “HvZ,” began in 2005 at Goucher College. Since its inception, the game has gone viral and has infected campuses around the world.

This spring, the organizers of HvZ arranged for over four hundred students to participate in the largest substance-free activity on the 5Cs.

“Zombies versus humans… brings all sorts of people together from all over the colleges,” Jaworski said.

The game has become such a hit that “Zeds,” as Zombies are sometimes referred to, have infiltrated 5C academia. In a recent simulation of U.S. Congress, CMC professor of Politics John Pitney arranged to shake things up with a surprise Zombie attack.

“I started thinking about introducing zombies to the simulation several months ago,” Pitney wrote in an e-mail. “At the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, I was a discussant for a panel on classroom simulations. One of the papers was ‘Teaching World Politics with Zombies,’ by Niall G. Michelsen [of] Western Carolina University. It occurred to me that a zombie attack could liven the simulation and make some substantive points about legislative politics.”

In the middle of the simulation, word got out that a Zombie attack was looming. Chaos erupted in Congress and some of the Congressmen even pulled out nerf guns of their own, should Zombies actually break into the building.

“The participants immediately started ceding power to the president, just as the real Congress does in time of emergency,” Pitney said.

With all the recent zombie excitement, seniors at Pitzer look forward to Brooks’s speech with interest and humor.

“I don’t really read zombie fiction, but I think he’s going to be good,” Dana Kingman PZ '11 said. “He’s a writer, and he did go to Pitzer, which should be an interesting twist.”

Though some students expressed concerned about Brooks representing Pitzer’s graduating seniors, it seems the overall consensus is a mixture of excitement and curiosity.

“We are very happy with the selection of Max Brooks as the keynote speaker,”Director of Institutional Events Andrea Olson said in an e-mail. “Not only is he an accomplished author and screenwriter, but he is also a graduate of Pitzer’s class of 1994.”

“Even if you're not a zombie fan, he can speak to a more general audience,” Jaworski said. “[HvZ] is the idea of soul-searching. It’s the idea of having society flipped on its head and people trying to figure out what to do with themselves. That’s a perfect allusion to being a senior in college. Everything that we’re comfortable with gets flipped on its head. I feel like as a commencement speaker he has a lot to say.”

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