If you could tell the world one story about yourself, what would it be?
“Called an amplifier of individual stories and a catalyst for building trust,” the Dear World campaign strives to bring personal stories to broader audiences. Dear World visited Lehigh University in late September; the impact of its resulting stories remains prevalent on campus.
The Dear World Mission
In the days leading up to the event, students from different campus groups participated in portrait sessions. Dear World is predicated upon a simple task: write a personal quotation on your body, then have your photo taken. Chosen quotations range from revealing statements to funny phrases. As Lehigh’s Dear World representative noted, the idea for the campaign began when a “Dear New Orleans” photo session took a different direction. She explained to listeners how a married couple wrote something special on the man’s body: “cancer free.” And so began the process of encouraging people around the world to share their most poignant, personal stories.
Dear World at Lehigh University
The event at Lehigh included a panel of four speakers who shared the stories behind their chosen quotations. While each of the speakers holds student status at Lehigh, many faculty and staff members also participated in the photo sessions for the event. The evening culminated in a slideshow of all of these portraits.
Potentially more moving than the panelist stories and the slideshow, though, is the remaining sense of connection that Lehigh’s Dear World event facilitated. In connecting students, faculty, and staff to one another through their deeply personal stories, new relationships were forged. Whispered conversations in hallways became avenues to ask someone about their portrait and begin a dialogue. The impact of this event on Lehigh’s campus—both during Dear World’s time here and in the succeeding weeks—surprised many members of the community.
Mary Foltz, an Associate Professor of English at Lehigh, commented on the remarkable willingness of students and faculty to share personal stories with one another. Foltz is a faculty mentor for IRIS (Inspiring Relationships that Ignite Social Change), a group devoted to pairing students and faculty members who identify as members of the LGBT community or as LGBT allies. She noted her appreciation of the raw emotion with which people shared their personal stories. Foltz also stressed the importance of those relationships forged through participants’ storytelling experiences.
For Lehigh senior Barbara Tsaousis, the event provided an opportunity to connect with the Dear World campaign in a more personal way than her readership on Dear World’s social media pages.
“I have actually been following Dear World [on social media] for a while, so I was thrilled to hear that they’d be documenting stories in our own Lehigh community! I loved how supportive and welcoming everyone was when I had my portrait taken. For my quote, I used a portion of what my mom said when she told me she had cancer—a story that I had never actually told anyone, except my best friend because she was with me when I received the call. When listening to other people’s stories, I laughed, cried, smiled, and everything in between. The entire day was very moving, and I’m thankful I had the opportunity to participate,” Tsaousis said of her experience.
Lehigh senior Nicole Lando commented on the lessons learned through participation in this event and its resulting impact.
“Dear World was a humbling experience that helped me empathize more with the stories of other students in my community, many of whom I had not known prior to the [portrait] workshop. Even now, I feel connected to these people through the shared experience of storytelling. Everyone has something unique to offer, and collectively the project showcased how spectacular Lehigh students really are,” Lando said.
Continuing the Conversation
The Dear World event at Lehigh helped to facilitate a greater campus conversation aimed at creating strong interpersonal relations. Everyone has a story to share, be it an amusing anecdote or a heartbreaking instance of emotional struggle. While events like this can spark community conversation, individuals can promote these types of dialogues, as well.
So, if you could tell the world one story about yourself, what would it be?