If you had one story to share with the world, what would you say?
That’s the question Dear World, an interactive portrait project, asked hundreds of students and faculty members Wednesday in the Marshall Student Center Oval Theater.
They voluntarily shared their stories and wrote an iconic phrase on their neck, hands or arms that was unique to their narrative.
Their portraits were then taken and displayed in a video at the Dear World lecture brought by the University Lecture Series on Wednesday night.
“The reality is some of our life experiences don’t have a big bam boom that unites people to us,” said Katie Greenman, a Dear World photographer and lecturer. “There isn’t a loud screaming that gets people to say, ‘Oh you need my help and I’m here for you.’ But the reality is that everyone in this room has their own story and their own experiences and has been through something.
“Obviously, life can be hard and I know from all the stories today, there’s a reason you’re still in this chair. If we don’t have these moments uniting us and reminding us how much we need each other, that’s what I hope tonight becomes, a reminder that you all need and are hungry for each other.”
Four students as well as Danielle McDonald, dean of students, shared their stories on stage before the crowd, explaining in three minutes what the words on their skin meant.
After each speaker, Greenman asked the audience if they related to some aspect of the speaker’s story.
Every time, nearly everyone in attendance raised their hands.
McDonald opened the evening by sharing her portrait. On her arms was written “because of my sophomore year.”
She explained on her 20th birthday she received a phone call from her mother informing her that her father had an affair with a family friend. She flew home to take care of her mother and sister.
She lost two friends in a car accident two weeks after she received the call on her birthday. McDonald said another of her friends was killed in a racist attack that year. However, she recalls the year was impactful in many positive ways as well. She became a resident assistant, found her major and began a new relationship.
“During that time I experienced loss, hate, love and found my resilience,” ,McDonald said. “But what I also remember was that it was university staff, friends and that boy I was dating who helped me through it.
“Because of that, I decided to work on a college campus and help college students with their experiences they were going through … Because of my sophomore year I have the family I treasure and the career that I love.”
Kenny, a senior, said she was a victim of sexual assault. She said through her time at USF, she was able to begin the process of healing.
Greenman had the audience look around after Kenny’s story. Nearly everyone had raised their hands saying they knew someone who suffered from sexual assault. She said this was a reminder that people need to talk about the issue.
Greenman asked the audience to partner up with someone near them and share their stories with each other.
Payton Booker, a senior majoring in mass communications, said the experience showed people are listening and are there for students.
Booker had written, “Beauty has no color” for her portrait and said it stemmed from growing up in a small town where women of color were not considered to be beautiful.
She said it hit her self-esteem hard and it wasn’t until she came to college that she realized she was beautiful in her own skin. Booker said she wished the activity was utilized more on campus because it might help people understand each other better and diminish some of the divisions students create on different issues.
Jenifer Ollis, a junior majoring in pre-social work, was partnered with Booker during the activity. Neither girl knew the other, but both said the activity was beneficial.
“I thought it was really awesome,” Ollis said. “It was really community building and definitely opened my eyes to a lot of the struggles other people are going through on campus.”