George Mason University

News at Mason

Dear World starts conversations, communities among students

April 13, 2017   /   by Alexa Rogers

Students who participated in the Dear World storytelling project display phrases on their forearms that tell their stories.

Dear World, an internationally recognized storytelling and portrait project, visited George Mason University on April 6. Photo by Ron Aira.

Students, faculty and staff gathered in the Johnson Center atrium at George Mason University on Thursday, April 6, to share just a few words about meaningful moments in their lives. The event was a part of Dear World, a visual storytelling project focused on bringing together campus communities worldwide. 
This aspect of Dear World was its second of three acts, where participants were encouraged to share their stories with student guides and visually represent them through writing words on their skin—like their faces, arms and palms. They then took part in an open photo shoot to share their messages with their peers. Later on Thursday, a small group of students were selected to tell their stories to an audience at the Johnson Center. 
Kathryn Rodriguez volunteered to be a student guide after learning more about Dear World, and felt she was able to connect with the students and faculty that were looking to tell their stories. 
“I feel like a lot of students need that connection and need someone to talk to, especially now with whatever is going on in the world,” Rodriguez, a management major, said. “I feel like a lot of students are looking for [opportunities like this].”
Rose Portillo wrote the birthdays of her kids on her arms, a symbol of personal bravery and a reminder of why she continues to pursue her degree every day to be an example for them. 
Michael Kamel, film and video studies major,  wanted to share his words, “Liberate Yourself,” to help other people, not just himself. 

“For me, that’s kind of a relief to know that I have self-liberated to an extent and can tell other people that this is a goal they should work towards,” Kemal said. “In a small way, it feels like I may be helping someone else.”

One such student was music major William Bennett, who said he wanted to share his message—“I own myself”—after a lot of things happened in his life in a short amount of time. He said without Dear World, he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to share how he felt. 
“I would have never in a million years thought throughout all of these things that happened to me that I would have been able to share it,” Bennett said. “I’m really proud of myself.”
Lisa Snyder, associate director of the LEAD Office and George Mason’s organizer of Dear World, called the entire experience inspiring and humbling. 
“I loved hearing the different stories and experiences from each person I interacted with and I loved seeing how we were all so different and connected at the same time,” Snyder said. 
Rose Portillo wrote the birthdays of her kids on her arms, a symbol of personal bravery and a reminder of why she continues to pursue her degree every day to be an example for them. 
Michael Kamel, film and video studies major,  wanted to share his words, “Liberate Yourself,” to help other people, not just himself. 
“For me, that’s kind of a relief to know that I have self-liberated to an extent and can tell other people that this is a goal they should work towards,” Kemal said. “In a small way, it feels like I may be helping someone else.”