The second annual Double Take storytelling event took place Thursday in the Old Cabell Auditorium. Featuring 10 storytellers from staff, faculty and the student body, the speakers were guided by a common theme of bridge building.
The first Double Take at the University occurred last year as a part of University President Jim Ryan’s inauguration ceremonies. Ryan told the story of searching for his biological mother, and at the event, members of his extended family met his birth family. Ryan started the Double Take event at Harvard while we was Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Over 100 students and faculty auditioned to speak at Double Take, with many auditions taking place in an Airstream trailer parked outside of Newcomb Hall. Jessica Davis, a student representative for Double Take, opened the gathering by praising the quality of the applicants.
“These folks showed us the incredible power of the story to connect us and, in typical U.Va. fashion, build bridges between us,” Davis said. “This event is all about the power to remind ourselves that we are all human. Through seeing and hearing each other we build a community and build bridges.”
Seven University undergraduate students from the College and the School of Engineering spoke at the event. They offered their unique perspectives on the University experience, ranging from the struggles of being a first-generation college student to navigating undergraduate life at the age of 34.
Eleanor Thompson and Ja’mel Reed, third-year College students, opened the event by discussing the legacy of their friend Rehan Baddeliyanage, an Engineering student who spoke at Double Take last year about the death of his first-year roommate, John Paul Popovich. Baddeliyanage passed away during the spring break of his fourth-year in Puerto Rico due to a heart complication.
“Last year Rehan stood where we stand today, honoring JP,” Thompson said. “I’m standing here today trying to follow his lesson and honor Rehan himself.”
Micah Harris, a third-year in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, offered a testimonial on his relationship with his brother, Samuel.
“[From the] age of 5 to the age of 12, Samuel and I would have arguments constantly,” Harris said. “This led to a divide between us. Everything Samuel would do, it felt like I would do the opposite … Samuel would always wake up early on Saturday to get to the Xbox first, while I would sit and tell him the game he was playing did not look remotely interesting.”
Eventually, Harris grew closer to his brother after trying to play the video game Samuel was interested in to prove his brother wrong. However, when he returned home during a break after struggling during his second-year at the University, he found himself in a new place with his brother.
“[I asked] if you were working on your college application and they asked you who you look up to who would it be?” Harris said. “He started breaking down and said it was me.”
One member of Aramark dining hall staff also offered a story at Double Take. Kathy McGruder, known affectionately as Miss Kathy, described the impact her childhood had on her perspective.
“On our street, my mother was the only one who was divorced,” McGruder said, adding how this made her excluded in her neighborhood. “All of that taught me I was never going to let anybody feel as if they never belong. It’s from your light that I reflect back to you.”
Three members of the University faculty gave speeches as well, including Paul Harris, an assistant professor in the Curry School of Education and Executive Vice President and Provost M. Elizabeth Magill. Kim Acquaviva, the Betty Norman Norris endowed professor in the School of Nursing, told a story of visiting an alternative hospice in rural Thailand.
“As we pull up, this pavilion full of people comes to life,” Acquaviva said. “The pavilion is full of elderly, frail men in blonde wigs and school girl outfits. It’s like a drag show at a nursing home ... One of the Phd students [next to me] says, ‘we have a surprise tonight, it’s called gangbang’ … Gangbang, as it turns out, is a type of red curry.”
The auditorium was full of University community members who were brought to tears and laughter by the storytellers. Ryan sat in the front row and hugged the storytellers after the event has concluded.
James Todd, a professor in the Department of Politics, had two former students speak at the event. Todd found the event captivating and took great pride in his students sharing in front of the University community.
“It’s wonderful to see people saying things that can help other people,” Todd said.