Story Slam Competition brings student experiences to the limelight

San Antonio graduate student Emmanuel Roldan speaks at the Story Slam Competition at 6 p.m. on Tuesday in the Bobo Spiritual Life Center. The competition was meant to show the diversity of student experiences at Baylor. Photo credit: Trey Honeycutt

Baylor students spoke on the social fabric of stories Tuesday at the Story Slam Competition put on by Baylor Formation and Baylor Cross Cultural Initiatives. The storytelling contest began at 6 p.m. in the Bobo Spiritual Life Center with an introduction and two feature speakers. Afterwards, the competition began in earnest with various students telling stories, some about deeply personal epiphanies and others about chuckle-inducing incidents.

LeeAnn Robelia, coordinator for formation for Spiritual Life, and San Antonio graduate student Emmanuel Roldan, who is working toward his master’s in theology, were the feature speakers at the Story Slam. Both told stories about significant events in their lives, one comic and one serious. Both stories accomplished the same goal of allowing others to see a new perspective on life.

“I think that it’s important to recover the storytelling tradition,” Roldan said. “Primarily because I think that story helps us make sense of our own lives, and I think it is in listening to the stories of others that we often make sense of our own stories.”

Robelia shared an experience she had as a young girl having a bike accident. She was unable to make it to the top of a large hill by her house, but a friend convinced her to walk the bike up and ride down anyway. She ended up toppling head-over-handlebars onto the asphalt. She came away from the experience with a few life lessons.

“One, I will never be old enough to ride a 10-speed Huffy, never old enough,” Robelia said. “Number two, if you can’t ride up a hill, you shouldn’t go down it.”

Roldan’s story had a more spiritual impact on his life, although it started out with a situation similar to Robelia’s. Roldan began by addressing the idea of insider language, especially in the church. He said that, when he was younger, he didn’t understand sanctification, being washed in the blood of the lamb or grace. He told a story to explain his epiphany about grace. When he was a teenager, he was preparing to go to his first day of work at his first job. Roldan got into his car, turned it on, threw it into reverse, hit the pedal and slammed right into the side of his father’s truck. He knew how much his father valued his truck and was immediately worried.

“I was trying to decide what to do,” Roldan said. “Maybe I should take off or blame it on the neighbors because they are always doing shady things.”

Eventually he called his mother, who advised that he talk to his father. Still terrified of the consequences and still sitting in the driveway outside his house, Roldan got on the phone with his dad and explained the situation. His father responded in a way Roldan never expected.

“My dad said, ‘Emmanuel, there is nothing that is broken that cannot be fixed. Go your way: this will get resolved and it will be OK,'” Roldan said. “That phrase has stayed with me to this day. It was true insider language that allowed me to make sense of the word grace.”

After the two key speakers, the contest began in earnest with students telling stories ranging from the complications that come with group projects to finding the face of God in the people around them. Richardson graduate student Philip Jorgensen, who is working toward his master’s in theology, gave a musical performance, howling like a wolf as he strummed on a guitar to lend some comedic relief to his story about how pastors struggle. The rendition won him second place.

Springfield, Mo., sophomore Noah Ward won first prize with his story about utilizing one’s God-given gifts. Using Moses’ staff as a comparison, he talked about how, even though Moses lacked courage and eloquence, God put a staff in his hand and worked through him. Ward then told the story of his parents’ nonprofit organization, Sole for Mission, which provides shoes for children in poverty. He ended by stating that every person had something of value that God could use for the kingdom of heaven. He also asked his audience a thought-provoking question.

“What has God put in your hands?” Ward said. “He put in Moses’ hand a staff. He put in my parents’ hands a pair of shoes. What has he given you?”

Ward received a trophy book for winning the competition. Jorgensen and Medford, Ore., senior Micah Furlong, who came in third place, received Baylor gear.

The atmosphere of the event was relaxed and cozy, despite being in a room meant for commercial use. Two end-to-end tables covered in 1940s diner style red and white checkered tablecloths were heaped with a buffet-style selection for dinner. The audience ate dinner at six tables with bright plastic tablecloths right in front of the stage so they could easily see and hear the speakers as they gave their presentations.

Roldan said the event was an important reminder of how vital storytelling is in bridging cultures and drawing people together in solidarity in ways that they never would have expected.

“Narrative brings out common themes of life,” Roldan said. “People can learn empathy and can learn that maybe we’re not all so different. Plus, it’s so much cooler than sitting down and scrolling through your Facebook feed all day.”