When LSA sophomore Austin Hatch was 8 years old, his life changed completely. His father was piloting a plane intended to return the family home from a spring break trip when it stalled and crashed, killing his mother, younger brother and older sister. Then, in 2011, nine days after Hatch committed to play for the Michigan men’s basketball team, the unimaginable occurred: Hatch was the sole survivor of a second plane crash with his father as the pilot. The crash killed his father and stepmother.
“I was told there was a one in 3.4 million chance in surviving a plane crash with at least one fatality,” he told a crowd in Hatcher Graduate Library on Wednesday. “That’s just one, so if you multiply that against each other, I had a one in 11 quadrillion 560 trillion chance to survive.”
Hatch, along with several faculty members who faced their own challenging circumstances, shared his story of resilience Wednesday at Talk it UP!
Sponsored by the Newnan Academic Advising Center, Talk it UP! provided a forum for members of the University community to reflect on the meaning of failure, success and endurance. The event featured a handful of short talks throughout the day.
Hatch told the audience he had to relearn to walk, talk, eat and live a normal life after the accident.
“I had basketball in my future, and I knew I had committed to Michigan,” he said. “I had something to work towards. All of you will go through something, but hopefully nothing as severe and traumatic as I have. But life isn’t pretty all the time, things happen. Set a goal, and work towards it and don’t let anything get in the way.”
Hatch played basketball for the University during his freshman year, but left the team to focus on academics.
Denise Kozikowski, an LSA academic adviser and organizer of the event, said it was modeled after a Stanford University program called “The Duck Stops Here.”
“The Duck Syndrome is this idea that everyone on campus is walking around looking like this duck effortlessly gliding across the pond,” Kozikowski said. “Meanwhile, underneath the surface, the duck is paddling furiously and working so hard to stay afloat.”
Kozikowski said organizers wanted to create a space where students could hear about failure and others’ triumphs over tough problems.
“It’s an honest conversation, about it’s not always going to be easy and it’s not always going to be perfect, but it doesn’t mean that you’re not going to go where you want to go,” she said.
LSA junior Lauren Gilbert said she found Hatch’s speech inspiring, particularly because he has been through so much at such a young age. She agreed with Hatch’s view that any hurdle can be overcome.
“I think that any obstacle is just an obstacle and you can always get through it,” she said.
English Prof. Anne Curzan, who delivered the event’s second talk, discussed the importance of taking risks. She said life will take students places they would have never imagined, and that’s OK.
“I think that when you see adults into their careers, it can look like we knew we were going to get here,” Curzan said. “It can gloss over all the messiness, all the indecision, all the panic, all the fear when we didn’t know what we were going to do and how the puzzle pieces would fit together.”
When Curzan was 22, she took a job teaching English in China. She told the audience how scary and hard the experience was for her.
“It wasn’t just about teaching, it was about a new culture, a new language,” Curzan said. “I learned a ton about myself.”
Other speakers included Engineering Prof. Herbert Winful, Statistics Prof. Brenda Gunderson, Public Health Prof. Vic Strecher and Esrold Nurse, assistant dean in the Office of Student Academic Affairs.
Curzan advised students to take risks while they’re still young, gaining new experiences before settling down.
“Take some risks, and have some adventures, before you own furniture,” Curzan said. “It sounds funny, but life gets much more complicated once you own furniture.”