HANCEVILLE – Esther Earl considered herself a regular teenager. The legacy she left behind suggests otherwise.
Wayne and Lori Earl, the parents of Esther Earl, who inspired The New York Times best seller, “The Fault In Our Stars,” will visit Wallace State Community College on Wednesday, Sept. 24, at 9:30 a.m., to share the life and impact Esther has positively made on so many across the globe. The Earls will speak at the Betty Leeth Haynes Theatre in the Student Center in conjunction with Wallace State using “The Fault in our Stars” as its campus-wide Common Read during the 2014-15 academic year.
“Esther really was just a normal person and considered herself nothing spectacular. She had confidence but carried it very well. Esther loved others and concentrated on achieving as much as she could, even after she found out she was sick,” said Lori Earl, Esther’s mother, during a phone interview from the Boston area earlier this week. “Sometimes we forget we have a choice. We have to keep in mind we can curl up in the bed and do nothing or say we want to do more with our lives.”
Esther Earl died in 2010 at the age of 16 after a battle with thyroid cancer. She was first diagnosed with the disease at 12 years old in 2006. After Esther’s initial diagnosis, she struck up a personal connection and friendship with author John Green at a 2009 Harry Potter convention. Esther was also an avid blogger, establishing a huge online following through Twitter, Tumblr and YouTube, and kept a detailed journal.
After Esther Earl passed away in 2010, Green used the positive attitude and fortitude Earl displayed during her battle with cancer as a strong influence behind “The Fault in Our Stars,” which remained at the top spot of The New York Times Best Seller list for seven consecutive weeks after its 2011 debut.
Earlier this year, Esther Earl’s journal collections and online postings, along with photos and essays from family and friends, was published in “This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl.” This book also made The New York Times Best Seller list.
People who haven’t read either book may be familiar with “The Fault in Our Stars” movie, which was released over the summer and has made $124.8 million domestically.
Both publications and the movie have powerfully connected Esther Earl’s narrative to millions of people.
“We find that many people resonate with ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ but also with Esther’s entire story. Whether someone is facing cancer or trauma in their family or they are being bullied, going through poverty or trying to survive as a single parent, a lot of people can relate to the message, which is even if life is throwing you the short end of the stick, the great thing is you still have a chance to live life fully and make a difference. And if you know your days are shorter than someone else’s, you are going to make those days count even more,” Lori Earl said. “Those messages are such a positive encouragement and can be very motivating for college students or anyone to say: ‘You know what, maybe my life isn’t so bad. Maybe I can overcome this and maybe stories like this can help me find my way through.’”
Wayne Earl will always admire the optimistic outlook on life his daughter exhibited, even when things were grim.
“Esther had a good start because she was such positive person from the beginning. She was cheerful, encouraging and upbeat. Those things definitely helped. She was always very empathetic and imaginative, and that’s such a gift to give to the world. When she was going through life before her cancer diagnosis, she was interested in boys and interested in reading, especially Harry Potter books. When she found out she had cancer, Esther took it as she did everything else. She said this is an awful thing, but let’s do what we have to do to deal with it and move on. It never stopped her from living and it never stopped her from being who she was. Esther continued to be positive and courageous and encouraged us all,” Wayne Earl said. “That doesn’t mean she didn’t have down times or wasn’t discouraged and overwhelmed, but with the help of her family and friends, both in real life and online, she kept pushing forward, hoping for the best, but realizing early on that this was a very serious cancer and it would likely take her at a young age. Esther was a person of faith and hope and said if God wanted her, she was ready. Until then, she wanted to be the best person she could be.”
Wayne and Esther Earl’s only previous trips to Alabama were for a couple of short stays in Birmingham. They are excited about next week’s visit to Hanceville.
They are both familiar with community colleges as each serve as instructors at Quincy College in Quincy, Mass.
“I love community colleges because of the student population. Your students are usually a little older and most students also work,” Wayne Earl said. “Just from looking at your website, your community college looks grand. It looks amazing.”
The Earls’ presentation is free admission and is open to the entire community. They hope to relay the positive outlook that Esther had on life, even after her terminal diagnosis.
Since Esther’s death, the Earls, who have four other children ranging from ages 25 to 11, have established This Star Won’t Go Out foundation, a non-profit venture designed to serve families who have children facing life-threatening cancer.
“‘The Fault in Our Stars’ has had a big impact on our foundation. It has raised awareness for our platform and helped us share our message. We couldn’t ask for anything more than to be linked to a New York Times best-selling author who stays on top of the list most of the time and then have an amazing summer standout movie follow it,” Lori Earl said. “We get letters every week from people who have just read the book or they found Esther’s story because of John Green or the movie. Those people say they wish they had known Esther because they know they would have been friends. People tell us how Esther’s life has changed their life. They want to make a difference because she chose to do that.
“All of that doesn’t erase the sadness of losing Esther, but it gives us something that makes us happy.”
The Earls visit will be sponsored by Wallace State’s Common Read and the college’s Sigma Kappa Delta English Honor Society.
“We chose ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ as our Common Read because we thought it would be something very engaging for our students, faculty and staff to read. This book has serious themes, but it’s also funny, smart and witty and has references to poetry, philosophy and a lot of things our students can relate to,” said Sally Warren, a Wallace State English Instructor on the Common Read committee. “I’m really excited to have the Earls come speak to us about the book and the life of their daughter. They’ve done a lot of press lately, and it seems like they have a lot of great things to say. They’ll give us a unique insight into the book that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. It will make it more real for us. We’ll be able to understand and sympathize with the book in a new way.”
For more information about Wallace State, visit wallacestate.edu.
Wallace State Community College
P.O. Box 2000, Hanceville, AL 35077
1-866-350-9722 256-352-8443 direct
Visit us online at www.wallacestate.edu