After reading the non-fiction book, “Into the Wild,” for his Aiken High School English class, Hunter Jackson said in some ways he could understand how a young man, Chris McCandless, could take an unlikely odyssey into the woods of Alaska.

“I enjoy being outdoors,” Jackson said. “These are freeing experiences that make me want to go camping. Everybody needs time to spend in nature and see what life is about.”

Yet McCandless' journey was baffling, almost mystical. He had finished college in 1991 and began traveling throughout the West and Southwest. The following spring he found his way to Alaska – sans money, car or possessions of any kind. He began a trek through the woods, and four months later, McCandless was found dead.

His death drew national attention, and Jon Krakauer's subsequent book drew much acclaim.

Jackson and his honors classmates read Jon Krakauer's book during the first semester; simultaneously, USC Aiken professor Dr. Andrew Geyer and his critical inquiry students were reading the book, as well.

His students also sought and received 500 cans of food that were donated to Aiken High's food pantry last week.

Francesca Pataro's English students had the opportunity to visit USC Aiken during the semester.

“We had a series of lectures from our professors that were shown on large screens,” Geyer said. “It was nice to have (Pataro's) students contribute to the discussion.”

The extended exploration of the book helped Pataro's students experience something far beyond their world, she said.

“They had a chance to look at the choices people make in their lives,” said Pataro.

The college students also compared the book and movie and the different approaches Krakauer and Sean Penn took, said senior Tayler Rodgers. Penn's screenplay included a spiritual aspect related to Christ that the book author did not, Rodgers said.

Both movie and book focused on McCandless' difficult relationship with his father and his inability to maintain relationships.

AHS student Ayron Dupert said the USC Aiken lectures were helpful in understanding the book and McCandless' personal journey.

“His story changed my view about how one person can affect a society,” Dupert said. “He gave up everything to find his happiness in life. His death was an unfortunate accident.”

As a result of the collaboration between the two schools, Pataro said, the book took on a greater meaning and purpose to her students.

She's grateful for the USC Aiken students' generosity with their donations. Geyer will continue that effort with new students next semester.

“I feel the general public does not realize how needy many of our students are here at Aiken High School,” Pataro said. “The food donations to our school are vital to the well-being of our students.”

Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.