I took a breath and let the words escape my heart and be spoken to a room of critics, peers, professors, and newfound friends. Standing at the front of the room I attempted to explain the research I had spent hours relentlessly searching for and what I discovered in conducting my own study. Life seemed at a standstill as I was fully invested in the words I was conveying to the room of unfamiliarity. It was also in the silence of the room I realized the challenge of this step. Realizing that no matter the hours of research or the validity of a study, I would be faced with critics. Critics who not only sought to find something wrong, but rooted their prejudices based on the titles attached to my name. I stepped down from the front of the room and returned to my place in the rest of the panel. Feelings of discouragement tried to cloud my heart. I focused on the next study presented before the audience asked questions. The critics revealed themselves in full color as their prejudices arose in their words. I answered with grace and tried to explain my study further. However, the critics were juxtaposed with words of encouragement. A marketer in the back addressed my study and spoke words that gave me hope. He spoke of how marketers are not aware of what millennials want or what they are responding to in advertisements. He said I could make decent money by studying millennials and what they respond to through media outlets. A spark lit up in my heart and revealed a possible new road. A road where my research could make a difference. A road that just might give light to the confusion of what upcoming generations are responding to in the media. The discouragement of the critics are no match for the passions that are alive in the deepest parts of my heart.
The study I presented was titled “The Effect of Iconicity of Childhood Innocence When Advertising a Social Cause”. I had the wonderful opportunity of presenting it at the Northwest Communication Association Conference in Idaho this last week. Something I had strived for since first going just as an audience member the previous year. Last year at the conference I recognized the power of stories. How stories shape time, history, and even the future. After hearing a study about Comfort Women in Korea, my eyes were opened to how many stories are unheard. The voices that could change the world are stifled by politics, prejudice, and time forgetting them. I want to be a voice for the voiceless. And communication research helps me better understand how I can be. This year at the conference I recognized the filters that people listen through. How even when sharing a story, every person takes a different understanding from it.
Conversing and presenting alongside fellow communication majors is inspiring and challenging. But I recognize how far I have come. And how far I could go. I remember my first speech as a freshman in college. I had little sleep the night before, was unsure how to talk without much notes, and looked out at a room of people I barely knew. I wore my black heels and clicked them together as I swayed, moved my hands too much, and spoke rather unclearly. The image of freshman me is juxtaposed with upperclassman me. I wore the same black heels, but my eyes were fiery with passion and my stance firmly planted. Each word spoken was not without feeling. For every word I spoke was with intention, knowledge, and passion.
This is one step. One step closer to being the communicator I hope to be. To be the storyteller that changes lives. That makes a difference in this world. Even if it means helping only one voice be heard. My studies as an Organizational Communication major have helped me put an experience to words that I could not explain before. It has helped me create healthier relationships and to strive breaking down the lines of social normativity. Communication studies have also helped me find meaning even in the smallest of moments. To see the meaning in each moment that is shaping my world. Shaping how I live life and how I cultivate relationships. Words shape the meaning of how I construct my understanding of life and I only hope to keep understanding the words I let speak into my life better.
The long car ride home I let the experience of the conference sink in. The mountains dived to the edge of the river and the sun surfaced high above the trees and the windmills. Soft acoustic music played over the speakers as the chatter of the car dispersed into contemplative thoughts. I let the thought stir of what it means to be rooted. How in this stage of life I do not feel rooted. Just when I think I can plant my feet for a moment, it seems time to move again. I suppose that comes with my age and stage of life, but I see others in the same stage of me with their feet firmly planted and the community around them growing. I look with confusion, but realize that my feet are meant to walk a different path. How my experience as a sojourner have brought me to many different communities and perspectives. It will be time to move again soon. Time to experience new communities, new understanding, and new ways of loving this world that I am so incredibly blessed to live in. All I can ask is prayers for my journey, and that time will not simply slip away, but be remembered in the moments that shape who I am and who I hope to be. A sojourner at heart. A wandering soul. A student of communication. And a lover of people. Lord grant me to eyes to see beyond social understanding. To see the words come to life. Because a life is a story. Our stories are what carries generations forward. Stories are comprised of words that give life meaning and understanding. Stories are what shape our world. And my story is just one among many that I pray will guide this world into a future solutions and life giving experiences.
P.S. Thank you to my fellow peers who were at the conference with me. I enjoyed learning from your stories, your passions, and receiving the beautiful gift of encouragement.