Everyone dreams of meeting their hero at one time or another, whether they are from a favorite comic book or are a professional in their respective field. For 10-year-old Vivian Knutzen, all it took was passion and a handwritten letter to meet hers.
Knutzen’s fascination with Dr. Jane Goodall began when her mother, Dawn Holland, gave her a book on the primatologist and her life’s work. Soon after, Knutzen read nearly all the books at her local library about Dr. Goodall, even checking out and perusing publications above her reading level. Inspired by Dr. Goodall’s work, Knutzen, too, has dreams of working with chimpanzees in Africa.
Upon discovering that Dr. Goodall frequently visits her childhood home in England, Knutzen proposed she write a letter to her hero on how much she admired her work and asking for ways she also could further help the environment and animals around the world. Sending the letter on its way in mid-January, Knutzen and Holland did not hear from Dr. Goodall’s team until almost two months later.
Receiving a call from Knutzen’s school, Bevis Elementary, one afternoon, Holland was shocked to hear that the publicist for Dr. Goodall was looking for her daughter. Explaining that Dr. Goodall had thoroughly enjoyed Knutzen’s letter and was going to be in Tampa the following week, the publicist extended an invitation for Knutzen to meet her idol in person. Waiting until her daughter arrived home from school that afternoon, Holland surprised Knutzen with the news.
“The chances that she would be coming to Tampa and that this would all happen, and we would actually have a chance to meet her, it was like it was meant to be. It was crazy,” said Holland.
On March 29, Knutzen and Holland arrived at the Tampa Theatre at 5:15 p.m. before the ‘Growing a Compassionate & Sustainable Future for All: An Evening with Dr. Goodall’ private lecture they had been invited to. Escorted to the green room, they were introduced to Dr. Goodall herself, who welcomed Knutzen in with a hug.
Conversation topics ranged from discussing Knutzen’s dog to Dr. Goodall’s experiences with chimpanzees in the wild. Upon giving Dr. Goodall a handmade bracelet, the primatologist signed both the first book Knutzen had ever read about her hero as well as Knutzen’s shirt, even drawing a chimpanzee on it.
At 7 p.m., Knutzen and Holland sat near the stage and watched Dr. Goodall’s lecture, which began with a discussion of her curiosity for animals and segued to how anyone can have an impact on the environment and raising awareness. Receiving a personal letter from Dr. Goodall the day just prior to meeting her, Knutzen stated she plans to continue writing to her in the future, especially after this inspiring experience.
“I think it just feels like she can make anyone love animals,” said Knutzen. “She just has this special thing where she can make you want to help the environment.”