This piece was written with the permission of the students involved.
I’ve had the best time teaching public speaking at my alma mater this past semester. This is my first semester teaching and frankly the realities and complexities of my life have made it hard for me to keep my eyes on teaching the classes I was assigned. But nonetheless this all changed when two very different students did something liberating and radical in my class.
I had assigned them to speak on a topic that they were passionate about. So naturally the usual suspects were chosen: politics, religion, the economy. But two students in my class decided to talk about their real passions: themselves. They spoke up about the stereotypical nature of who they are and how they don’t quite fit the mold of that stereotype. They talked about being gay at the university and the struggles they face with family life. When I asked them why they did it they proclaimed that it was because they had saw in the speeches given such passion, that they wanted to bear their souls to the class.
We live in a world that needs liberation. We live in a world desperate for a shot that says we’re worthy of this precious life. And those students who came out as gay to our class show us the bravery it takes to be oneself in today’s world. Our world is hell-bent on conforming people to boxes and showing them that they aren’t good enough.
At Duke University in the Divinity School carved in rock is a quote from Paul’s letter to the Romans, “Be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” I could complain about the realities of education, the lack of credit adjunct faculty often receives, and how our system is struggling. But in the end, I know that these two students were given an opportunity to experience themselves fully and completely in a public and authentic space.
Our greatest hope lies in the liberation of others. And after that class I had three or four other students come up and say they wanted to change their topic to something deeper and more meaningful. Our liberation is bound up in the liberation of others. Even the oppressor can be liberated from oppressing others if only they were to try. If two students at a university in the heart of Appalachia can show who they really are despite what society and culture says than what can’t we do—what can we not accomplish together?