“Reach Higher and Go Farther”

by Bethany, 23 from Pennsylvania

I remember how it felt the first two years of college at St Francis University. It was a small, catholic university that was easy to grow into right out of high school. The classes were small, the clubs were small, everyone knew each other, and it always felt like there was someone there for you if you needed it. I joined every club I could – I jumped on as a leader for weekend Catholic Confirmation retreats, as a student leader in the spring break Dominican Republic trip group, interviewed to be a Student Ambassador, started my own Imagine No Malaria chapter, and loved every second of it. I remember my freshman year as a time of transformation, and my sophomore year as a time of accomplishment and self-discovery. By February of that year, I realized I wanted to “reach higher and go farther,” as the St Francis motto was, but the career I realized I wanted to go into, Public Relations, wasn’t a course offering at St Francis. Sadly, I realized I had to transfer schools. I remember driving away from campus on my last day that year and feeling like even though I was chasing my future, I was leaving my heart behind.

Arriving at West Virginia University (WVU) for my junior year, I realized quickly I was in for a big change. The school was ten times as large, everyone my age already formed their group of friends, and mine were so far away. On top of that, I felt like I was clinging to the identity I had created for myself at St. Francis, and I was finding it difficult to let go create a new identity at WVU. There were many times when I thought I made the wrong decision, that even though I wouldn’t be studying what I wanted, maybe I should have stayed…even just to be comfortable. As it turns out, I didn’t have to wait very long to form a new identity. By my second year at WVU, I was jumping into every opportunity there as well.

Fast forward to the October after I graduated from WVU, October 2013. I was a full-time digital marketer and was visiting St Francis for a monthly worship service that I used to attend regularly. Something happened during that worship service that made me think about my career…it wasn’t what I wanted at all. I realized I had been volunteering and working toward causes and with nonprofit organizations my whole life, so why didn’t I pick that for a career? By January 2014 I had quit my marketing job, and by April 2014 I had a Community Outreach Specialist job with a nonprofit organization in Pittsburgh. Almost a year later, I still feel like this job is a dream come true. I found myself in different ways in college and in life, but I never could find myself as profoundly as I did at St Francis.



by Devan, 18 from Pennsylvania

I’m a dancer. I danced for fifteen years. Eleven of those years I was on a competitive team. My first year on the competitive team, I was absolutely terrified. I was much younger than the other girls on the team. I was seven and the next youngest was twelve. I did not have anything in common with any of the girls. I was just starting school, while they had already been at it for a while. In the beginning I wanted to quit, but my mom was always telling me to not give up the opportunity. So I stayed in the dance class, and then it came time for the competitions. We went to the first competition and we won, first place. Just when we were getting ready to leave a judge came up to me and my dance teacher. She couldn’t believe I was seven and dancing with high school students. This ended up being a common reaction among judges at other competitions. I did not know the skills I had, and I went on to have another ten great years of dance and competitions.

I had the skill to still go on after high school, I just didn’t have the body. Dance is a beautiful art and sport, but it destroys pieces of you. I didn’t go on with dance because in the end it was a constant physical burden. I had torn the cartilage off my breast bone and in my rib conjunction, fractured my wrist several times, and dislocated knees and ankles. But dance will always be in a large part of my heart. I would do it all again if I had the chance.

Just Discussions

Since November 2014, participants have gathered several times to discuss the power of sharing our stories with each other and methods of telling engaging stories.

Here are some of the ways we have engaged in dialogue with each other about how to share with others so that we may offer glimpses of the realities of our lives and learn from the realities of the lives of others as well as empower each other’s voices.

 Word Association Ice Breaker

Participants stood in a circle and each individual said their name and one word they think of when they hear the word, “story”.

Some of the responses given included, “personal”, “adventure”, “mine”, and “emotional.”

We discussed the patterns in the words we gave as responses and talked about the very personal nature of story-telling. What do our stories reveal about us? What do they say about who we have been? What do they say about who we want to be?

Drawing Perceptions

Each participant had a piece of paper. On one side of the blank sheet, we drew our vision of the other culture. What do we see when we think of that place and society? On the other side of the sheet, we drew a picture of our own culture. We discussed what our pictures of the other culture revealed about prejudices and preconceived ideas. The pictures of our own culture can show what we value most about where and how we live, and therefore, the story and image we want to share with others about the realities of our lives.

Illustrated Life Timeline

In order to help workshop engaging stories to share, participants each created an illustrated timeline of their life, from birth to present day. Everyone was encouraged to include at least 5 events from their life that they felt were the most important or formative. For example, we thought about what moments had made us most afraid? What moment did we feel most proud of ourselves, our culture, or our identity?

Example Memoir Excerpts

An important aim of the blog is empowering female voices. What better way to do this to learn from other female voices? Participants are encouraged to read memoirs written by women from around the world. We also read over excerpts to aid our discussions of what makes an engaging story. Specifically, we looked at excerpts from Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, and Tasting the Sky by Ibtisam Barakat.


Facebook has enabled us to continue the conversation after our workshops end and across the geographical distance. We have a shared group on which we can share interesting videos and interviews. Here are two things we have shared on Facebook and discussed outside of our time together:

StoryCorps Interview – A powerful interview between Yusor Abu-Salha –one of the victims of the recent murders of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina –  with her 3rd grade teacher, Mussarut Jabeen. Mussarut Jabeen also returned to StoryCorps recently to talk about Yusor’s death.

“Breaking out of Prison” by Honey Thaljieh

Please, carry on the conversation in your lives and circles as well. What can we learn from the stories of others? How do we tell meaningful, powerful stories? How can we share with each other in ways that empower and affirm rather than discourage and create distance.

My Forgotten and Reclaimed Dream

by Agnes, 23 from Pennsylvania

From the time that I was little I knew that I wanted to be a Special Education Teacher. I told everyone I knew about my dreams to work in Special Education when I grew up. Any time we would have a career day or someone would ask me what I wanted to be, that is what I would tell them.

But I got a little misled and confused along the way. In elementary school I volunteered a lot in the Special Education classroom and loved helping and loved making friends there.  Everyone said I was so good working with them, and I was glad because that it what I wanted to do with my life. In high school, I also worked in a Special Education classroom and loved it but was no longer sure about that being my career choice. In between high school and college, I took the year off and thought that I would give it another try. I worked in another Special Education classroom full-time until the summer. I loved every minute of it and started to think again that this was my perfect career choice.

Then, I went to college and decided to audition for the Conservatory to become a Music Therapist and work with music and Special Needs children. However, I did not get into the conservatory and decided to become a psychologist instead.

But when I graduated with my psychology degree I realized that I was still being called towards working in special education. I wished that I had realized that before graduating from college but that’s how it works sometimes. Now I am looking into schools so that I can continue to pursue my forgotten, and now reclaimed, dream of being a Special Education Teacher.