On March 16, Anna Maria College welcomed the Dear World project to campus as students, faculty, and staff participated in the award-winning photoshoot and speaker ceremony. Dear World is a portrait program that encourages individuals to share their deeply personal stories of loss, resilience, and triumph. Through their in-depth questionnaire and message-on-the-skin portraits, the Dear World project helps participants of all backgrounds bond and gain a deeper appreciation for each other’s life stories. The Dear World project made a lasting impression on Anna Maria participants with several students and faculty sharing the personal meanings behind the words that they wrote on their bodies.
Janmary Plaza Sepulveda – “After All I’m Still Here”
Janmary Plaza Sepulveda is a freshman social work student whose life journey is a testament to her personal strength. Immigrating from Puerto Rico when she was 14 years old, Sepulveda knows first-hand the difficulties that come with trying to learn a new language and culture while trying to find your place in the world. While navigating her new American citizenship, Sepulveda worked to come to terms with being a survivor of sexual abuse. After working with social workers and therapists throughout her youth, Sepulveda was determined to raise her voice about her experiences and help others. Her goal is to ultimately become a therapist and empower others. Advocacy is at the center of Sepulveda’s journey and is demonstrated by the way she shines a spotlight on critical issues such as sexual abuse through her work as a member of the Students Against Sexual Abuse, Social Action, and Latinos Unidos. The Dear World project allowed Sepulveda to share her personal experiences. “I’ve been wanting to talk about it for a while,” she said about being open as a sexual abuse survivor. The words “After All I’m Still Here” demonstrate her resilience as she moves forward determined to help other survivors. “I get to be an advocate, raise my voice, and bring awareness,” Sepulveda said about her journey as a social work student.
Dawnisha Franklin – “I’m Where I am Meant to Be”
Life is full of unexpected twists and turns and no one knows this better than business major senior Dawnisha Franklin. Originally from Louisiana, Franklin was attending Newbury College when the school announced its closure. Thinking about how an unexpected negative experience brought her to new positive opportunities at Anna Maria, Franklin was inspired to have the words “I’m Where I am Meant to Be” written on her body. Not only does the message apply to her college transfer, but the message applies to many other facets of life as well. In addition to taking part in the photoshoot, Franklin was asked to be one of the speakers at the Dear World unveiling ceremony. At first, she did not know what she was going to say, but then Franklin focused on the importance of being present in the moment and enjoying life’s journey. “You may think you are lost but you are just in unfamiliar territory until you get to your destination,” Franklin told ceremony participants, “Loses make the wins all the more sweeter.” During her time at Anna Maria, Franklin traveled throughout New England with the basketball team and discovered a love of travel. After graduation, Franklin wants to travel and discover new experiences before settling down into a future communications career. Franklin was proud of herself for speaking at the Dear World event and enjoyed the experience so much that she wants to bring the project to her high school back home in Louisiana. “I want people to be open about their stories and struggles in a comfortable place where they are not judged,” she said.
Dr. Jim DiReda – “Let Your Light Shine”
Whether it is getting a pie thrown in is face or having words of inspiration inscribed on his head, Dr. Jim DiReda, Associate Professor of Social Work, always believes in supporting campus events and is happy to be a visible presence for his students both in and out of the classroom. DiReda was part of the planning committee which invited the Dear World project to Anna Maria’s campus but it was his colleague Kelly Sullivan who encouraged him to join the photoshoot. Students decided which words would be written on DiReda’s head . “I had no idea what they were going to write,” he joked. According to the professor, the Dear World projects and other events, “Give a voice to students and stimulates a part of them that oftentimes goes untapped.” DiReda believes that getting students out into the real-world and giving them unique opportunities to critically think, learn from one another, and gain experience are essential aspects of learning. “You can learn about something by reading about it, or by doing it. You can read how to ride a bike or you can actually ride, and I find that students do much better when they ride the bike,” DiReda said.
Kelly Sullivan – “Never Quiet Your Voice”
Kelly Sullivan, Director of Social Work, was very proud to see students be so vulnerable and open with one another during the “beautiful” Dear World event. Originally approached about the event by Melissa LeNeve, Director of Campus Ministry and Jessica Eckstrom, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs, Sullivan thought that the event was a “holistic way” to reflect the college’s values. The event began with participants completing a questionnaire before being partnered up to share their stories. Sullivan was excited to see people participating from all different areas of the campus from President Mary Lou Retelle to recognizable faces in the Dining Hall like Travis Parker. “Not only were they telling their personal stories in a private way, but they had words on them that could publicly be seen,” Sullivan said. Sullivan brought her entire class over to participate in the photoshoot and subsequent speaker ceremony where selected participants went more in-depth into their stories for the audience. “There is something in everyone’s story that makes them an important and vibrant part of this community. It is important for them to recognize that their story is important and that their voice is important,” Sullivan said about the impact of sharing and respecting personal stories. The raw emotions and bonding resulted in powerful portraits that empowered those who participated. “I did not expect it to be as moving as it was and I really hope that we bring it back,” Sullivan said about Dear World coming to campus.
See the full gallery of photos below: