On Sept. 21, the Dear World college tour came to Saint Leo University. The two-day project was an emotional and inspirational experience.
Dear World originally started in New Orleans, LA in 2009 after Hurricane Katrina struck. Here, people began to write their love notes to the city on their skin, and this allowed them to express their thoughts and feelings of hope, struggle, and longing. Dear World is described as a business, art project, and social experiment all in one. Through this project, the creators have the ability to show that there are more things that brings everyone together than keeps us apart.
Saint Leo students, faculty, and staff were united as they courageously shared their handwritten messages to the world. Though it was an emotional experience, it was good to see Saint Leo come together as one family and share the moment. In an interview, Joshua Bartholomew, president of Saint Leo’s student government union, gave insight on the decision that was made to invite the Dear World tour to the campus.
“Dear World has traveled across the country asking people to share their stories with messages on their arms. SGU decided to invite the Dear World tour to our campus because we saw the major impact on college campuses across the country. Our primary purposes were to improve the relationships with students, faculty, and staff while celebrating the stories of our University community.” Bartholomew said.
Similarly, many students enjoyed their presence on campus and thought it was a great effort to unify the school community. Destiny Bailey, a sophomore, majoring in biology said that she realized now more than ever that she is not alone in her struggles.
“The tour not only allowed me to realize that human struggle is universal, but it reassured me that no matter what, there is a strong support system here on campus. There is always somebody who cares. It also encouraged me to be determined, and never to lose hope despite my circumstances.”
The event on campus was a major success. According to Bartholomew, “More than 400 people came out to be a part of the Dear World Tour at Saint Leo. It was amazing to see how much support we had from the faculty and staff. The highlight of the photoshoot was when Dr. Lennox and Fritz the mascot wrote the Saint Leo core values on their arms.”
The Student Government Union also noted that the event’s success could be seen around the campus even after the event concluded. According to the president of SGU, this success has set the tone for the future events which will be sponsored by the organization.
“What made this event a huge success was the support SGU received from our sponsors, the President’s Staff, Communication’s office and faculty and staff groups,” said Bartholomew.
Students are encouraged to look out for the portraits which should be available within the next two weeks. The Student Government Union is also partnering with Student Affairs to search for areas on campus to place framed collages to remember this event on campus. Additionally, all the pictures will be posted on Channel 96 during Open House weekends and Fall Family Festival.
On Sept. 22, at 7 pm, the event culminated with a keynote speaker in the SCC boardrooms. Students were exposed to other portraits which were taken all over the world. From New Orleans, the project expanded to Boston after the series of bombings, as well as Paris after the terrorist attacks. There was also a heartwarming presentation which covered the theme of love throughout the city of New York.
Five of members of the Saint Leo community also shared their stories which were undoubtedly inspiring. These included Edson O’Neale, advisor of Student Affairs and head of Student Government Union, Tiffany Fettig, who is a campus minster, Joe Thompson, Jamilah Imani Ray, and Dean Everton who are all students at Saint Leo University.
O’Neale expounded on his quote which stated that, “There is more to me than a bathroom fight.” He went more in depth, and spoke about how all his life people underestimated him, and as such, he felt like he always had to prove himself. O’Neale’s was a motivational story for those present. He charged the audience never to underestimate the power they have.
Tiffany Fettig shared what her quote “I’m a mission on this earth” meant. She spoke about the influence of God in her life, and how he saved her from death in two car accidents during her college career. Since then, she has made an active transition to serving Him and has now become a campus minister here at Saint Leo.
“They wouldn’t let me through the door,” was what Thompson wrote.
He shared with the difficulties he faced when dealing with the family of his previous significant other, who were racist. He recalls how they blatantly disrespected him because of his skin color. He, however, has learned to move on and has since been much happier.
Ray got very emotional while sharing her story of attempted suicide. She also shared the stories relating to her depression, and issues with self-image. Her quote: “I’m glad I failed,” refers to how happy she is that she survived her suicide attempt. Since coming to Saint Leo, she has found a family of support here who she truly values.
The last student speaker of the night was Everton. His presentation too was touching as he spoke about the death of his best friend, who was more like his brother. This severely affected him and led him down a road of alcohol and drug abuse. Everton, however, strongly believes that “In darkness there is light,” and as such, tries to maintain an optimistic perspective for his friend who passed away.
Because of the plentiful support SGU has received, the Dear World College Tour is expected to be back on campus next year or the following year. The returning event will continue to strengthen the bond within our community and generate a spirit of excellence.