Dear World displays Xavier stories

Students and faculty reflect on sharing their own narratives in portrait form

Newswire photos by Ellen Siefke | The Dear World exhibit can be found on the second floor of the Gallagher Student Center. Underneath each set of photos reads “Everybody has a story. We welcome yours at Xavier.”

Dear World Xavier, a portrait-taking event sponsored by 11 different departments and on-campus organizations, asked more than 300 students, faculty and staff to expose their innermost narratives by writing them on their bodies.

Those stories, summed up in small sentences ranging from “She came up and said thank you” to “When she left, home left too,” leave the onlooker questioning their assumptions and the deeper meaning behind them.

48 of those narratives are now hanging on a wall with their stories slashed boldly across their subjects’ bodies. They have staked claim in their stories, worn them on their bodies, exposed their pain to the world and asserted the importance of wearing their hearts on their sleeves.

Though that kind of exposure was difficult for first-year Grant Zentmeyer, he believed the experience ultimately proved rewarding.

“It was hard to be OK with telling that story and being ready to tell people about that. It’s kind of strange to know that people around are perusing my story…people that I don’t even know yet,” Zentmeyer said. “But that is OK because I think that if we promote the idea that it’s all right for people to share their story, then more people will feel OK with being open with their stories.”

Sophomore Allison Schroeder also felt that the pain of vulnerability was worth it.

“There is a power in storytelling,” Schroeder said. “…At Xavier people tend to have a made-up story about people before they even get to know them. Because it’s such a small school, I feel like people, based on how you look, you’re already given a past. I think the Dear World project puts us past that and really brings out what makes us unique, what makes us Xavier.”

With that vulnerability, Zentmeyer explained, came the opportunity to get to know the subjects of those stories beneath the façade.

“The one thing that really comes up with each picture is that behind every single person there really is a story, and for a lot of people, that’s not obvious when you first meet them,” Zentmeyer said. “They have stuff that they don’t tell you on the first-day meeting, but they have something that they really do need to tell, need to spread. It is important to be there for each person, to be ready to listen to their story, so that they can come to you and that you’re ready to respond and be there as a friend.”

For example, a smile can be a reaction to pleasure, a physical representation of inner happiness or possibly just courtesy. For junior Johnny Srsich, the bubbly smile you can often find on his face holds gratitude but also purpose.

“I smile as much as I can because you never know if someone needs a little bit of happiness in their day to get through their own struggles,” Srsich said.

For Srsich, six simple words — “He gave the Pope a bracelet” — attest to years of his brother’s story.

“When I was a freshman in high school, my older brother Peter, who was a senior at the time, was diagnosed with stage 4 Diffuse Large B cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and was forced to undergo eight months of intensive chemotherapy and radiation,” Srsich said. “While going through treatment, he rallied around the Scripture verse Romans 8:28 and would constantly refer to it. Because of this, one of our family friends made a little green rubber bracelet that on one side said ‘praying for Peter’ and ‘Romans 8:28’ on the other.

“Peter was given the opportunity to make a wish, and his wish was to visit Rome to see the pope. Well, Make-a-Wish did one better than that, and Peter got the chance to meet Pope Benedict XVI. It was there that he gave His Holiness one of his bracelets because he did not have anything else to give him.”

The opportunity to share his own story as well as listen to others’ stories was not only rewarding but also liberating, Zentmeyer added.

“You went with your friends and you told a story, but you came out of it feeling a lot more relieved, like a weight had been lifted,” Zentmeyer said. “I was finally telling a story that had lurked on me and weighed down on me for so, so long.”

Associate Director of Student Involvement Dustin Lewis testified to the emotion of watching others find their stories to share.

“I helped several others with listening to their stories and finding those moments to help capture for their portrait,” Lewis recalled. “That was definitely emotionally draining but very much worthwhile, and with several of the faculty and staff that I worked with, I’ve felt a stronger connection knowing more about them outside of work.”

Lewis asserted that while not all stories are easy to tell, that doesn’t make it any less important that they’re told.

“Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of culture and communication,” Lewis said. “Written stories, spoken stories — both have significantly contributed to our history as a society. The ability to both rationally and creatively think and to then share that expression with another is invaluable to us as human beings.

“On a personal level, sharing part of yourself and allowing someone to share themselves with you creates a bond and allows us to empathize with others. We find meaning in our shared experiences and in how we relate to one another, and all of that is done through storytelling.”

By: Brittany Wells ~Staff Writer~