Whenever she speaks somewhere, Collins Tuohy usually gets asked about two things: how her family is doing and how accurate The Blind Side depicts her family's story.
Although a few details were changed, Collins said the important parts of the story were represented well in the movie.
"This is the true story," she said. "It is how you see it."
The 2009 movie starring Sandra Bullock tells the story of how the Tuohy family from Memphis, Tenn. takes in Michael Oher, a talented high school football player without a home. Oher, with the help of his new family, becomes a top college football recruit and is ultimately drafted to the National Football League.
Collins gave her perspective of the story to a full house at the Indiana Memorial Union's Whittenberger Auditorium Sept. 2 evening as part of the third annual Wilson Delta Gamma Lectureship in Values and Ethics.
The lectureship program began at the University of Akron in 1992 and is supported by the Delta Gamma Foundation on 19 campuses, including IU.
Molly Newell, director of lectureship for IU's DG chapter, said Collins was chosen as this year's speaker because of her story and message.
"We wanted to bring a woman who exemplified compassion, leadership, and confidence," Newell said. "Collins was a perfect example of that."
Newell said she hoped Collins's lecture would inspire the audience to think of others before themselves and take advantage of the power they have to make someone else's life better.
"Her message on the power of giving and not letting judgment skew perceptions is very powerful and is something we all need reminders of from time to time," Newell said. "Through small acts of kindness or larger influences, Collins teaches us just how much can be accomplished when we give one another a helping hand."
Collins told the audience several stories about her family. One story was about how her younger brother, S.J., who now plays basketball for Loyola University Maryland, needed a place to park his car because he couldn't park on campus. Oher, who was playing for the Baltimore Ravens at the time, offered tickets to every Ravens home game to a family in town in exchange for a parking spot in front of their house for the rest of the year.
Oher now plays for the Tennessee Titans.
Collins later recounted the night her family first decided to help Oher. It was near Thanksgiving time, and the weather was cold and slightly snowy. The family was going to get some food to bring home for dinner. They saw Oher walking along the street, wearing shorts. As her father, Sean, was going to drive past him, Leigh Anne told him to turn around. Collins said those words changed their lives forever.
She told the audience that every day for three months, Oher made the quarter-mile walk from the school to the bus stop that took him to his downtown Memphis residence. He walked through a predominantly white neighborhood on one of Memphis' most travelled streets, where 45,000 to 60,000 people would pass by each day.
At that point in his life, Oher had been in and out of several foster homes and the state considered him a "runner" - meaning they had essentially given up on him, that he had no value, Collins said.
She said about a year and a half later, Les Miles, the head football coach for Louisiana State University, wanted to see Oher play. Oher had already been considered the best offensive line player in the country by well-known college football recruiting analyst Tom Lemming. But because football season was already over, Miles came to watch Oher play basketball, and immediately offered Oher a scholarship to play football at LSU. Collins said after that, recruiters were knocking on the family's door to get five minutes with Michael.
People now considered him valuable.
Among the attendees at the lecture were other members of the IU Greek community as well as Delta Gamma alumnae, including members of the national council and foundation board.
Wilma Johnson Wilbanks, chairman of the board of trustees for the Delta Gamma Foundation, said DG had always been more than a club to her. She said the lecture and its messages are a reflection of what DG stands for and values, including trust, loyalty and truth.
"As citizens, we aspire to a higher level of intergrity," she said. "Through these lectures, the Delta Gamma Foundation helps to reaffirms the principles of Delta Gamma, which is to do good."
Members of Kappa Delta filled nearly two rows in the auditorium. Collins was a KD at the University of Mississippi.
"She's a really well-rounded person," KD member Tory Loebig said. "We just like to go listen to people that we can learn a lot from."
Collins said her experiences with Oher taught her about the value of an individual.
"Get to know people and value them," she said. "If you do, you can be just as lucky as we were."
She said with Oher in the home, every day was like Christmas. The Tuhoy family says there are two kinds of people in the world - givers and takers.
"Giving is an addicting feeling," she said. "It makes you feel good about yourself. Every day it is worth being a giver and not a taker. My life would not be what it is if we hadn't given something to Michael every day."
She charged the audience with finding their passions and not being afraid to make a difference.
"You are not too young and there are some very simple things you can do," she said. "You need to get off your rear end and do something. Sitting there is not acceptable."
During a question and answer session, one audience member asked Collins how her appearances inspired others. Collins teared up when recalling instances of people bringing their adopted children to book signings, telling her that the Tuhoys' story was what inspired them to bring someone into their own families.
"Impacting somebody's life is a strange thing," Collins said. "It's even stranger when you don't even realize you're doing it. Our intention was never to be an example. We didn't seek out any attention."
Delta Gamma member Sarah Rivich said she liked hearing how Collins didn't let media attention affect anything she or her family did.
"It was impactful," Rivich said of the lecture. "It changed your perspective. We can be givers, just like her."