Hosted by the Comprehensive Studies Program (CSP) and the Department of African American Studies (DAAS), Value the Voice is a storytelling speaker series. This month, the series concluded with its fourth installment of this academic year, being its eighth installment overall since its beginning. The theme of this installment was “The Shoulders of Giants.” Hosted in the UMMA Auditorium, the vibe for the night already felt intimate and welcoming. Before introducing the speakers, there were a few ground rules that the audience was encouraged to recite after the MC: Love, Support, Encouragement. I really appreciated this introduction for the speakers given that for some of them, this is their first time sharing their personal story and for most, this was their first time sharing their story on stage in front of an audience. Each speaker spoke for approximately 10 minutes each, with there being five speakers in total.
The first speaker, Kristin, was a freshman (!) whose “giant” was her mother. Kristin told such a beautiful story of her relationship with her mother, while also alluding to some frustrations, confusion, and anger along the way. What I liked most about Kristin’s story is that it was so thoughtful, mature, and accommodating. Kristin’s story was an exemplary reflection on living life with loved ones who are suffering from mental illness(es). Throughout her story, she was honest in the pain that she must have felt but ultimately, she was so considerate of her mother and her hardships. What I gathered from this story was that it takes a lot of patience and understanding in these situations but most importantly, it’s not always about you. The reality behind having loved ones suffering from mental illness is that no matter how bad you think it affects you and your relationship, often times, it’s hardest on the carrier.
The second speaker, Elizabeth, was a senior whose “giant” was her grandfather. Elizabeth began her story explaining what it’s like to be from a family of immigrants and a 2nd generation American. Elizabeth’s story was especially insightful and gives me the impression that she has a keen attention to details. She told a story about a simple routine of making coffee for her grandfather every day after school and transformed it into a life lesson that she continues to carry with her. The moral of her story was about not losing your focus. As a fellow college student, this really resonated with me. This environment can easily become overwhelming and not just with academics but with your social and personal life as you’re constantly being pulled in so many different directions.
The next speaker, Vivian, is a graduating senior. She spoke about the importance of finding your own niche here on campus. Eventually, she shared that two of her family members had passed within one year of each other. I really enjoyed Vivian’s story because her energy was so genuine and calm. I shared the sentiment of praising God under all circumstances in your life. Vivian concluded her story by ensuring the audience with “Keep going y’all. It gets better eventually.”
Following Vivian was Phancie, who is also a senior. Phancie’s story was a tearjerker, to say the least. She began by introducing four different individuals in her life who she considered to be her “giants.” For each person, she assigned the following words to describe them, respectively: Personality, Generosity, Determination, and Love. My takeaway from her story was that “Love is a choice.”
The last speaker was Ms. James, who is a Program Associate for DAAS. Her story was about a faculty member who looked over her during her time at the University and presumably was her mentor. She shared with us three key points of advice: 1) Treat others the way you want to be treated, 2) Life is easier when you use humor, and 3) Live your life with integrity. However, one of the more impressionable statements was from her mentor who told her “You did not come to this University to win an Olympic Gold Medal. So why are you running around?” That really stuck with me because many times, I have to remind myself to slow down, take my time, and trust that everything will get done someway/somehow without having to exhaust myself at the benefit of others.
Value the Voice is an intimate safe space for students to share their stories and be heard. As an audience member and a fellow CSP Scholar, I felt at home in their welcoming presence. I was able to feel my emotions as I listened and reflected on the stories being told.