Katherine Flores squeezed through barbed wire to avoid the police. Ben Herold wanted his friend to be seen as something other than a cancer patient. Ben Allen needed to trust before he could show vulnerability.
These heartfelt stories from University of Virginia students and community members were told to an audience in the Rotunda this week as part of the “Double Take” speaking event. Based loosely on “The Moth” format where regular people tell tales about events that shaped their lives, the effort was started by UVA President Jim Ryan five years ago.
“Everyone has a story,” Ryan told the crowd. “But too often we assume that, before we hear someone’s story, we know what it is and make judgements or assumptions.”
Ryan said while he wanted the audience to focus on the words spoken from the stage, he also reminded them that “the person sitting to your right and your left has a story. And the hope is when you leave here, you will remember that everyone you see has a story.”
That includes Katherine Flores, who at 12 fled El Salvador with her mother. She framed her story on how the concept of “home” was different for people whose homes kept changing.
She ended up in Charlottesville as a middle-schooler who didn’t know English. But she quickly learned, excelled in high school, and is now a UVA nursing student.
Ben Allen, the executive director of the UVA Equity Center, spoke about how the experience of being a father forced him to confront a challenge he had avoided his entire life: being vulnerable. But first, he said, he had to learn to trust deeply.
Ben Herold, a student, spoke about the need for children facing cancer treatments to be seen as children first and patients second.
He was inspired to create “Shoes for Hope” by his connection to a friend who wanted to be viewed as the same person she was before her cancer diagnosis. The project lets pediatric cancer patients express themselves by painting athletic shoes that have been worn by UVA’s basketball teams and coaches.
Other speakers included alumnus Thomas Hall, assistant professor Anna Katherine Clay, graduate student Rebecca Jarrett, nursing student Abdallah Aljerjawi, and first-year student Caitlin Winston. You can watch the entire “Double Take” event here.