YouTube sensation Zach Wahls speaks at Safari

Before Jan. 31, 2011, Zach Wahls was your ordinary college student.

However, it was on that day when Wahls became known across the country for his compelling speech about being raised by his two mothers. His audience that day: The Iowa House Judiciary Committee.

As with most great feats, his speech was put on the Internet, and has since gained over 18 million hits on YouTube, while also getting him an interview on the Ellen DeGeneres show.

“It was terrifying. If you watch the video clip, I was shaking,” Wahls said about being on Ellen.  “They found my mom’s number and called me during the middle of a snow day.”

Now Wahls is touring the country talking in front of 40 universities in the fall alone. One of his stops included Central Michigan University's Pearce Hall for Leadership Safari.

While speaking three separate times in front of audiences reaching more than 300 people, Wahls addressed the issues that he had to deal with his whole life including same-sex marriage, support for LGBT rights and the many levels of politics that surrounded them.

“They aren’t my gay parents,” Wahls said during his presentation. “They don’t live in a gay house, they don’t drive a gay car, and they don’t have a gay dog. They are just my parents.”

When it came to writing his speech, Wahls did not have much trouble since he had been debating for years before.

“There were a few different drafts that I went through while I was writing the speech,” Wahls said. “I settled on the one that I knew the best which was about my family.”

CMU reached out for him to come, and right away Wahls wanted to make things clear that he wasn’t a diversity motivational speaker. He wanted the experience to be more of a conversation.

“This is a very hot issue for people our age, and this is the defining civil rights question of our generation,” Wahls said. “It’s kind of a big deal that my parents would not be married if they were with me today in Michigan.”

Some of the issues Wahls addressed personally affected some of the students in attendance, which included DeWitt senior Megan Winans.

One of Winans's closest friends growing up was openly gay, which affected her relationship with her father.

“I did theater, so a lot of my friends were gay,” Winans said. “So it was kind of a culture shock for my father.”

Rochester senior Allison Walsh was another student was hit home by Wahls’ words.

“It really struck the message that we do have a lot of college students that can change something if we don’t like it and how media can be an outlet,” Walsh said.

Walsh saw the YouTube video of Wahls over the summer for a current event, when she took a diversity class for her major.

“I think the thing to take away from him is that marriage is marriage and that there is not really a specific way to define it,” Wahls said. “Like he said, a lot of people focus on hating the other groups instead of focusing on the big issue at hand.”