OGDEN, Utah (ABC4) – Nearly 700 students filed into the auditorium at Highland Junior High School in Ogden for an assembly Tuesday morning. This assembly was especially exciting for two reasons: it’s the first they’ve had since the onset of the pandemic, and they had a surprise visit from a famous author. He was there to inspire the students to reach for their dreams, as well as boost their love for reading.  

James Dashner is the author of “The Maze Runner” series, among other books. The series was adapted into a series of movies with the lead character played by Dylan O’Brien. The first film in the series made $100 million in North America.

Dashner grew up in a small town in Georgia. He told ABC4 that he loved to read as a child and always thought about being an author. However, as he got older, he decided to pursue a more logical career. He moved to Utah to go to college and studied accounting. Nonetheless, his desire to write books remained.  

Now an author with global success, Dashner wants children to understand that dreams do come true. At the assembly, he encouraged them to work hard towards whatever goal they have set for themselves. He reminded them that as someone who came from a humble family in a small town, where you come from doesn’t determine where you’ll go in life.

“From entertaining, to helping them escape, to helping them become better readers and prepare better for the future, there’s just all kinds of wonderful results of being a reader,” he told ABC4. This is a message he also emphasized with the students: reading opens other opportunities.   

This message struck one student especially hard. Ethan Zapada plays on the school’s basketball team. He hopes that one day he will be able to play for UCLA, and eventually for a professional team.  

Zapada stated, “You know, if you’re good at your craft. If you’re an author, you know, or for me, basketball, just being able to work at that. It doesn’t matter where you’re from.”   

After the assembly, every student was gifted a signed copy of one of Dashner’s books. This was paid for by Teen Author Boot Camp, funded by the Larry H. Miller Foundation. Zapada told ABC4 that he hadn’t read Dashner’s books, but his mom is a big fan. He said he plans on reading his new, signed book with her.