Golden Gavel Award

Sandra McDowell

Erin Gruwell
Golden Gavel Award Recipient

Toastmasters International has named Erin Gruwell its 2017 Golden Gavel recipient for her commitment to helping those who have nowhere else to turn using the art of communication. She exemplifies the Toastmasters values through her integrity, her respect for the individual, her service to others and her focus on motivating individuals to achieve excellence and become their best selves. Gruwell will be honored this August at the 86th Annual Toastmasters International Convention in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Gruwell founded the Freedom Writers Foundation, which transformed her students’ lives through writing. She captured their collective journey in the best-selling book, The Freedom Writers Diary, which also became a critically acclaimed movie starring Hilary Swank as Gruwell. Gruwell currently teaches educators around the world how to implement her innovative lesson plans into their own classrooms. She also created the Freedom Writers Methodology, a progressive teaching philosophy and curricula designed to help all students achieve excellence.

After the release of the book and movie, Gruwell began receiving requests for the Freedom Writers to speak around the world. Although the students had bared their souls in the diaries, the prospect of standing before audiences and telling their very personal and often-wrenching stories was daunting. Gruwell knew a colleague in Toastmasters and wondered if there was something the organization could do to prepare her students for speaking engagements. Soon the Professional Women Toastmasters club in Playa Vista, California—comprised of past presidents from other clubs—agreed to deliver an eight-week Speechcraft session for the Freedom Writers.

Brimming with confidence and newly polished speaking skills from their Toastmasters experience, the Freedom Writers began presenting frequently to diverse audiences around the globe. Now in their 30s with good jobs, advanced degrees, families and successful lives, Gruwell’s former students—all of whom graduated from high school and attended college—find it rewarding, sometimes liberating and often emotional to revisit the experiences from their turbulent teenage years.

  1. View a list of past Golden Gavel recipients.
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