It’s not every day that a graduate student gets to share her 130-page thesis with a national TV audience. But School of Communication alumna Natilie Williams, M.S. ’16, got that opportunity May 13 when she appeared on the Steve Harvey show.
Williams was incorporated into a segment of the talk show’s “Where Are They Now?” episode with the cast from A Different World. She wrote her thesis on the influential sitcom, whose fictional story revolved around the life of students at a historically black college.
Williams’ ties to A Different World go back to her childhood. In junior high school, she used to watch reruns of the show every morning with her mother, Cotrina Colquitt, until she died in 2006 when Williams was 13 years old.
“I loved that show,” Williams said. “That was always a connection I had with her.”
The show taught Williams about the impact of positive relationships and the benefits of attending college. Her thesis examined the relationships of characters Ron and D’Wayne, as well as Whitley and D’Wayne. Williams concluded that pride and selfishness were common denominators in the relationship issues and understanding and compromise overall characterized the relationships’ tenacity and vitality.
Williams said the show continues to have a big impact on the African-American community 23 years after its final episode.
“It’s still a conversation to this day,” she said.
Williams’ extended appearance on the Steve Harvey show came as a surprise to her. She had just finished her thesis the week before when one of Steve Harvey’s producers emailed her an invitation to attend an April 6 show taping where she would get to ask Harvey a question about attending college. He never mentioned A Different World.
Williams had already been planning to attend an April 16 meet-and-greet with the cast of A Different World at Norfolk State University, a historically black institution. To secure an invitation to that event, she had to submit a letter explaining her connection to the show. A Norfolk State official had been impressed with Williams’ letter and passed on her story to the producer on the Steve Harvey show.
Williams ignored the producer’s email at first: “I thought it was a scam because I never submitted anything to the Steve Harvey show.”
Williams eventually figured out it wasn’t a scam and accepted the invitation. But she didn’t realize what was going on until she got to Steve Harvey’s Chicago set. She thought something was funny when she saw her name on a dressing room door and the show’s crew began putting makeup on her. Then she walked onto the set and saw huge photos of the A Different World cast.
“I became hysterical,” she said. “I realized that my hard work had paid off.”
Williams was able to meet the cast of A Different World and was called on during the show to discuss the sitcom’s historic impact and its importance to her.
“It was for real,” she said. “The three female characters were actually crying.”
Williams graduated from Illinois State on May 6 and will be working as a business analyst for a large corporation.
Here is the clip from the Steve Harvey show that features Williams:
Kevin Bersett can be reached at kdberse@IllinoisState.edu.