A line wrapped around the entire third floor of Armstrong Student Center Thursday night as students waited to see actress, director and bestselling author Jennette McCurdy at a question and answer (Q&A) panel.
Though she’s known for her role as Sam Puckett on Nickelodeon’s “iCarly” and “Sam and Cat,” McCurdy is now distancing herself from the acting industry. In August, she published her memoir, “I’m Glad My Mom Died.”
The novel has seen nothing short of success, as it has sparked conversations about abusive parents, eating disorders, child exploitation and addiction around the world.
The panel, which was hosted by Miami Activities and Programming (MAP), began at 9:00 p.m. The event sold out; tickets were gone as soon as they went on sale Wednesday morning. Steve Large, Miami’s assistant vice president of health and wellness, led the Q&A.
“I’m so glad to be here with you all tonight, and I’m so glad that it’s packed because let me tell you, Jennette McCurdy is an incredible human being,” Large said.
Large then provided the audience with a content warning of the sensitive topics the panel would entail. He also noted that counselors were available at the event for students to speak with as well. Large read McCurdy’s bio before introducing her to the crowd.
As soon as McCurdy entered the room, the audience burst into thunderous applause. She and Large shared a hug once McCurdy walked onstage. Large informed the audience that Miami is the first university McCurdy would be speaking at as part of her tour.
Of Miami, McCurdy told the audience, “It’s beautiful here. It’s so gorgeous. You guys are lucky to be here, I’m sure you feel that.”
The first question of the panel pertained to McCurdy’s abusive mother, Debra. Large asked McCurdy if she ever recalled seeing or hearing other people talking about their abusive parents the way she was.
“No,” McCurdy answered. “That was part of why it felt like such an important message to share because I felt like there was such a need to keep parents on a pedestal. And, oftentimes, people would sort of suggest or hint that there was more to the story but wouldn’t delve into it.”
She went on to say when people acknowledge their parents’ abusive behavior, they’d often try to dismiss it. McCurdy did this herself, as she attempted to justify and excuse her mother’s treatment towards her.
McCurdy’s process of reconciling this belief was a lengthy one. Her first therapist suggested McCurdy’s mother was abusive during a session, which led McCurdy to quit therapy.
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“I thought, well, I don’t want to deal with my mom being abusive,” McCurdy said. “No thanks. And it took me a while — over a year, I would say — before I was able to kind of dip my toe back in the water of therapy and even consider revisiting it because understanding that my mom was abusive meant reorienting my entire world.”
After her mother’s death in 2013, McCurdy continued to do things Debra had wanted for her life. McCurdy felt obligated to do so, as she believed her mother knew better than she did.
Once she started therapy again, McCurdy began to successfully recognize uncomfortable topics regarding her mother. She realized she needed to take control of her own life and identity.
“I mentioned earlier to Steve, I was like, if we start talking about therapy I’m gonna nerd out,” McCurdy said. “It’s gonna take up the whole time; you’re gonna have to [reel] me in.”
When asked what made her want to try therapy again, McCurdy said there was a piece of information she was struck by. She refrained from revealing the information, as she didn’t want to spoil the book for the audience.
“I will never know who my mom really was,” McCurdy said. “But I can know who I really am. I’m gonna go back to therapy, and that’s what really got me back in the door.”
The topic moved to McCurdy’s eating disorders, as she previously suffered from anorexia, bulimia and binge eating. She now considers herself fully recovered and said she has a great relationship with food.
The panel circled back to McCurdy’s mother, who McCurdy admitted she sometimes misses. She said she’s grateful for her life now, but she knows it’s only possible because her mom is dead.
Now, she surrounds herself with good people, and McCurdy told the audience that she hopes they’re doing the same.
McCurdy answered a few more questions submitted by audience members before the panel. The questions were selected by MAP and asked by members of the organization.
After the event, students were eager to share their thoughts on how McCurdy’s words and experiences made them feel.
Shelby Ayers, a senior anthropology major, was thrilled she attended the panel and felt moved by McCurdy’s words. She believes McCurdy’s overcoming of her trauma is a hero story.
“It felt like she was talking to me,” Ayers said. “I feel like a lot of people can resonate with that in the crowd … It felt like I was seen. It felt like we were talking as friends.”
Ayers is currently reading McCurdy’s memoir and said she’s enjoying it. She is part of MAP and said MAP members were able to get copies of the book signed by McCurdy.
Not only did McCurdy’s panel resonate with students, it also gave them more information about therapy. Leah Disantis and Ryan Jeansone, who are both first-years, said they learned a lot about mental health resources.
“It gave me a lot more information about therapy and stuff than I thought it would,” Disantis said. “I thought that was interesting to see how [McCurdy] was able to develop from going to [therapy].”
Disantis thought it was interesting to hear about McCurdy’s experiences that most people didn’t know about until the publication of her memoir.
“I learned a lot more about therapy that I didn’t really know, and also just about Miami’s resources with that and how [therapy] helped [McCurdy]. I could like, consider it now,” Jeansone said.
Jeansone and Disantis were both fans of Nickelodeon growing up, which is what enticed them to attend the panel. However, they both left wanting to read McCurdy’s book afterwards.
The panel was made possible through MAP’s director of arts and entertainment, Eva Cole. Margaux Harding, who is part of MAP, explained that Cole works with booking agents in order to contact and negotiate with entertainers.
Harding said the process is lengthy. Contracts must be reviewed by the entertainer’s team and Miami. The panel was in the works for a few months, but was only announced three days before it happened.
“Trust [your] instincts,” McCurdy told the audience as parting advice. “If there’s something where you just know, like, you have a vision for something, it’s just staying true to that and knowing what to fight for in that vision.”