A group of first-year students experienced their first in-person convocation in the church-chapel on Wednesday, when five of their peers spoke as a part of the annual ICC StoryCorps project. 

Goshen Core Director Suzanne Ehst began by introducing the project and the storytellers. 

“This year during a pandemic, when it’s been harder for new students to develop connections to this community,” Ehst said, “it strikes me as especially important to hear and receive the stories of a few members of our first-year class.”  

The students selected to share their stories were Cassi Cwiertnia, ASL interpreting major from Lake Zurich, Illinois; Julia Jun; music education major from South Korea via Malaysia; Isis Espinoza, TESOL major from Elkhart, Indiana; Tiffany Ross, marine and environmental science major from South Bend, Indiana, and Noah Schnabel, music major from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. 

The students were nominated by their identity, culture and community class teachers and then selected by Ehst, who looked for  diversity in both theme and background. 

Ehst said that ultimately, “the goal is to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world through the simple act of storytelling.” 

Cweirtnia began by sharing what her close-knit family learned after the death of her cousin. Both her mother and her aunt had once been uptight about particular things, such as what people wore on holidays, but after her cousin’s death, her aunt learned that “life is way too short to worry as much as she did.”

Jun spoke about an eye condition she experienced in high school, known as chalazions, which are uncomfortable bumps that develop on the eyelid due to excessive eye rubbing and stress. 

Jun was experiencing a great deal of stress after moving in middle school from Goshen to Malaysia and starting an intense homeschool program. Her condition got so bad that she had to see a specialist, who, upon seeing her condition, sent her to surgery right away. 

“I learned to take the time to process the stresses in my life,” Jun said. She also learned to appreciate the little things in life and to not take her body for granted. 

“I will never forget to always be grateful that I have a set of lungs to breath, hands to write, ears to hear, and eyes to see,” she said. 

Espinoza spoke about her mother’s harrowing journey from Honduras to the United States. Only 16 years old, she crossed the desert, almost giving birth to Espinoza on the way. 

“I reminisce on the various stories she tells me,” Espinoza said, “and forever will I be grateful for the valiant mother I have. The love of a mother can transcend all pain, all hurt and all borders.” 

Ross shared about a time in high school when she was going through a variety of hardships, which led to her having suicidal thoughts. During a brief stay at the Michiana Behavioral Center, she befriended many other patients, despite how strange they may have seemed at first.

“I felt guilty because I was judging these people before I even knew their back story,” Ross said, reminding listeners that “each and every one of you has value, to not only others, but to yourselves,” she said.

Schnabel shared about his experience with an eating disorder and body dysmorphia. He began worrying about his appearance in fourth grade, and by high school he was exercising excessively and starving himself. It became so bad that his heart was slowing down, and he was warned by a doctor that if he continued to starve himself he might have a stroke. 

“I was just in the passenger seat,” Schnabel said, “I was being driven by my mind to do something that I didn’t even know I was doing.” 

He learned to stop caring so much about the judgement of others, saying that when people choose to judge others, “they are judging themselves ten times harder.” 

Ehst was grateful that this convocation could be partially in-person. 

“We have not had many opportunities to build community with the whole first-year class,” she said, “so it was worth the extra logistical work to make that happen.”