Tyler Oakley: A major YouTuber takes College Hall

Leah Hardgrove | Contributing Writer

This past Wednesday, I experienced a real blast from the past when Tyler Oakley came to speak to Washington University students on the South 40. As Oakley sauntered into College Hall, opening the event with his signature line, “Hi, everyone! My name is Tyler Oakley,” I felt transported back to middle school. As soon as he entered the room, it was as if I was 14 again, sitting on my best friend’s bed watching Oakley’s newest video on her iPod Touch.

Tyler Oakley speaks onstage at the 2014 VidCon at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, Calif. Oakley was brought in by Congress of the South 40 for a speech last Wednesday.Gage Skidmore | Flickr Creative Commons

Tyler Oakley speaks onstage at the 2014 VidCon at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, Calif. Oakley was brought in by Congress of the South 40 for a speech last Wednesday.

As the event continued on, it was obvious he hadn’t changed from his YouTube days. He was still overly adorable, asking if he was allowed to swear. He also exuded a warm, personal nature, asking who had asked what question and trying to learn audience members’ names. Afterwards, he even went through and liked as many Tweets about the event as possible, including mine (the highlight of my life). Oakley answered a variety of questions, from how to get started on YouTube to his feelings about Taylor Swift’s new music. However, his true passion came out when discussing social justice issues.

Oakley has been a continuous activist for social justice, raising more than $1 million for the Trevor Project, a national organization focused on LGBTQIA* crisis intervention. As he spoke to Wash. U. students, he urged them to remember their privilege, revealing that one of his least favorite things is people telling LGBTQIA* youth that there is a silver lining to the conservative Trump administration. Yes, some good might be coming in the future; more people are becoming aware of injustice and will become more active in their government. However, right now, there’s an entire community in crisis. He took time to remind this community that they’re not alone.

Oakley also explained how to be a good straight ally, saying that allies must constantly prove themselves. Speaking up once doesn’t make someone an ally forever; it’s a constant effort. Oakley specifically mentioned how celebrities have a duty to use their influences for change, berating Taylor Swift for her lack of political activism during the recent election.

Sophomore Priyanshu Jain, Congress of the South 40’s director of services who organized the event, picked Oakley as fall speaker because of his social activism.

“We wanted to have someone to speak about a social issue, which was the theme of the event, but also someone who could connect with other people that could get them involved in the issue. He was also good at discussing the social issues while keeping the audience captivated,” Jain said.

CS40 officers also had a chance to interact personally with Oakley before the performance, where they noted his kindness and personability.

“On a personal level, Tyler was very sweet. Even people who hadn’t watched his videos before choosing him, like me, even for those people, it was really great. He really wanted to connect on a personal level; he tried so hard to remember our names after the event, which really went to Wash. U.’s ‘name and faces’ theme,” Jain said. “He had such a personal connection, asking people’s names when they asked questions. He tried to relate to everyone [in the audience]; he talked about being a [resident adviser], a [teaching assistant]. He tried to relate to the college students, which was great.”

I’m delighted to know that Oakley’s on-screen compassion and respect for others isn’t fake. He isn’t a vlogger who acts a certain way on camera just to get views; he means everything he says. As someone who lost interest in most YouTubers years ago, it was nice to know that Oakley was still the same hilarious, socially aware person he used to be. He didn’t have a big ego about his success, something I figured he’d have at this point in his career, having earned over 8 million YouTube subscribers and hosting a talk show for Ellen DeGeneres’ digital platform. It’s refreshing to know that there are people who haven’t let internet fame change them. Seeing Tyler Oakley live was a fantastic opportunity put on by CS40. My inner 8th grader, with her bangs and braces, can’t thank them enough.

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