Lessons from a historic spring

By Marina Whitchurch, Public Speaking Instructor

Spring 2020 will go down in history. For certain. For a multitude of reasons.

But I don’t want to begin where you think I might…

Gratitude is something that I’ve been taking more time to acknowledge lately. In this time of uncertainty, it’s been helpful for me to slow down and identify those areas of my life for which I am thankful.

I am grateful for communication. That I can sit, safely socially distanced in my home, on my laptop, and talk with my students over the internet (Zoom). Admittedly, it was touch and go — computer issues and internet slow downs be damned! But we are persevering. My students stuck with me, asking questions
at all hours of the day and night, texting, calling, emailing, messaging — we stuck together. I am grateful that we can continue to communicate and that I get to listen to their speeches with their amazing topics and insight and research. It was a process to get here, to this place of gratitude for something that caused us so much angst. But if we can all look back on this term and congratulate ourselves for sticking with it through all the ups and downs, then we can get through anything. I am grateful for communication.

I am grateful for my colleagues. The ones that help with computer issues. The ones that come to our coffee klatches and engage in spirited and meaningful dialogue. The ones that work behind the scenes to make sure those of us continuously in front of the camera have the tools to do so (in most cases). The ones that I’ve known for ten, fifteen, twenty years that remind me of the brilliance of having a Communication Studies degree. That we have stayed together and connected for two decades, through marriages and anniversaries, through births and deaths, we have a forensics family who’s ties can not be broken. These connections are lifelong and it is imperative that we continue to reach out to our friends and those in our lives that help us to get to the next level or stage of our lives. I am grateful for their support and friendship. I am grateful for my colleagues.

I am grateful for my father. I am an only child of a retired, careered and storied law enforcement officer. I am grateful for the experiences and knowledge instilled in me from an early age. To respect others. To protect myself. To stand up for what I believe in and what I want. Though we butted heads most of my life, his zeal for the truth imprinted on me the same. I was the child that consistently asked, “Why?”… much to their dismay and to the point my Mom would respond with, “Because I said so, that’s why.” And that promptly ended the discussion. I find myself searching for truth and meaning in all the speeches that I listen to from my students. I try to instill in them the excitement and investigative skills I learned early on in my forensics (speech & debate) career. By the way, forensics, the way Aristotle meant it, is the search for truth and meaning. Funny how things work out, right? Keep asking questions. Keep searching for your truth. Be steadfast in your journey to be a positive role model to others in your community. Strength. Courage. And even vulnerability makes us human and connects us in profound ways. Do not be timid in the dialogue. I am grateful for my father.

This term has challenged us in so many ways and it is time to tuck our experiences and our education in our knapsack; to gather up all our courage and our words; to harness our energies together and create social change for the better. We are all students right now. First we were students of health and
medicine. Then we were students of technology. Now we are students of social justice. We cannot simply ignore what is happening in the world. These issues are changing us. They are changing our relationships and our culture, our politics and our society. What will you do? What will we do? How will we use our power as intellectually empowered individuals to create positive and productive social, systemic, cultural and political change? We MUST engage in difficult conversations regardless of the discipline we teach, the children we care for, and the communities we live in. We MUST allow space for all to speak their hearts and minds. Even if those narratives make us feel uncomfortable and we NEED to ask ourselves tough questions if we do.

These past several months have challenged us. But it will not take us down. It will not be the end of us. I am grateful that I am able to use my voice. And I will continue to talk about relevant issues in my classrooms (or Zoom rooms) until the change that I want to see in the world has happened, or I have no voice left. I implore all of you to use the platform that you have, wherever and however you
have it, to hold deep and meaningful discussions. I implore all of us to continue reading and researching and expanding our understanding of what is happening in the world — from all sides possible. This — all of “this” — is far from over. As critical race scholar Lisa Corrigan points out, “This is a marathon, not a sprint.”