Today’s post was written by library student assistant Kaylee Tokumi.
We’ve all felt it. The thrum of a beating heart as anxiety unfolds over our senses, as deadlines loom near. The end of the world seems but a breath away. Then, through our sheer determination or simply a stroke of luck, our stress unravels. We sit back with one thought in our mind, “crisis averted.” At the annual LMU Speaks event, student, faculty, and staff storytellers from across campus told such stories where an impossible, intimidating situation found its conclusion. As always, LMU Speaks was an experience full of twists and turns that helped our community grow closer through shared tears and laughter.
The first speaker was Amber Bliss, a first-year graduate student. Amber shared her story about finding peace in the face of adversity. As a person working in the field of mental health, Amber knew how to help others and thought she knew how to manage her own anxiety. Then, one night while camping, Amber experienced her first panic attack. She described how her nervous system went into overdrive and panic engulfed her senses, leaving her shaken. Over time, Amber took the first few steps to control her anxiety and change her life. She reflected on her struggles, identified how her intersectional identities impacted her mental health and found a new support system. While Amber is not completely ridden of her anxiety, she has developed a way to manage it. Now, Amber proudly declares, “vulnerability is our superpower.” By removing the stigma of mental health and talking about our experiences like Amber, we can all find bliss.
Lizbeth “Liz” Ramales Arango, a senior undergraduate student, shared a heart-wrenching but important story about her experience of family separation. When Liz’s father was deported for being an undocumented immigrant, Liz didn’t know what to do. As Liz said, “my world was shaken,” and she was forced to go through her daily life like nothing had occurred. Still, Liz and her family would not be defined by one label thrust upon them by an unjust society. She is a daughter and sister who fought to ensure that her family was treated fairly. She is a student who wants to help others by becoming a legal practitioner. Liz urged the audience to challenge the governmental systems and policies that keep racism in place. By doing so, we can ensure that people are treated as individuals who bear their own dreams and stories.
Next, Y. Katleen “Kat” Saturné from Campus Business Services talked about her Alternative Break trip to Haiti. Kat grew up in Haiti, so she was excited to return home with a group of LMU students who were ready to engage with the local community. Kat’s trouble began before her group even set foot on the plane. First, the faculty advisor for the trip dropped out, then they learned that their flight was canceled. While Kat’s party was able to catch another flight (after an incident involving a lost passport), they had to sprint to reach their connecting flight. After Kat and her students reached Haiti, everything seemed fine. Until one of the students became ill after using unpurified water to brush his teeth. Once again, Kat was able to solve this crisis by taking the student to the hospital. In the end, they all flew home safely. While Kat’s Alternative Break wasn’t the most relaxing, her group made memories that would last a lifetime.
Lastly, John Sebastian, the vice president of mission and ministry, closed the event with a series of stories that prompted several rounds of hearty laughter from the crowd. John originally lived in New Jersey, a place with warm weather and a mild round of rain showers every so often. Then, John moved to Florida. One day, dark storm clouds rolled into the skies above the Sunshine State. When John was asked if he had an evacuation plan for the oncoming hurricane, John replied, “What’s an evacuation plan?” Luckily, John’s friend already had an evacuation plan in place that would bring them to Texas. John’s journey included ceaseless hours of driving, a lot of traffic, and a disgruntled wiener dog with an injured back. The trip was long and full of several bathroom breaks, but John and company finally made it to Texas. After one night in their new hideaway, they were quickly told that Miami was safe so they should return home. Unfortunately, Hurricane Ivan wasn’t the last storm John would encounter.
John experienced several other storms and hurricanes during his time in Florida. One required him and his girlfriend (now wife) to bunker down in a safe area beneath their house without power for four days. Another saw John driving to his father-in-law’s house with a cat and three chickens led by a leash tied around their legs. To paraphrase, John’s closing advice: “Before a hurricane, make sure you check your vehicular capacity for chickens.”
As LMU Speaks teaches us, every story matters. Just one story can create change and connect people. By sharing our experiences, both tragic and heartwarming, we can become a community of individuals with the power to avert any crisis.