The university’s annual event, EMUTenTalks showcased three alumni in the crowded MainStage Theater where they shared what has helped them succeed with those gathered in the audience. Jodie Geddes, ’16, Anxo Perez, ’97, and Trent Wagler, ’02 all delivered passionate speeches about what has shaped them and helped to define their successes. Each came from a different background, providing unique stories of how they had been impacted by the world in which they live.
Geddes, a slam poet and community organizing coordinator at Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth, shared first. Geddes began by asking the audience to close their eyes. “I want you to take a few seconds to think about the world you want to create.” Geddes emphasized that the worlds the audience imagined might only be ideal to their personal world, but might not be to the benefit of others. Geddes encouraged the crowd to step out of the solution with personal satisfaction, seeking solutions that might benefit the larger group. “We need to think about what does the ‘I’ look like in relationship with, not relationship to, in relationship with the ‘we,’” said Geddes.
Geddes expressed that restorative justice is often used as a tool, often kept away, and that we must find a way to use it to create solutions that meet the needs of all involved. “What I’m challenging you to do … is to really think about the world that you want to create and challenge yourself,” Geddes said. Geddes inspired the audience to challenge themselves and look for ways to create an ideal world by looking at the “we” rather than the “I.” “I’m asking you to continue to imagine with me.”
Following Geddes, Perez took the stage. He returned to EMU for the first time since his graduation for the Centennial. He shared experiences and lessons learned in his path to becoming a successful entrepreneur. Throughout his life, four main lessons have helped Perez grow. He paired each lesson with stories that helped to reinforce the lessons. His first lesson encouraged the audience to step outside of boundaries. “If you want to grow more, you have to expose yourself more.” Lesson two was similar, encouraging others to take risks in order to find success. Following that, Perez delivered his third lesson: “to have the largest of fires all you need is the smallest of sparks.”
His host mother inspired Perez through repeated lessons in turning his socks right-side out before putting them in the laundry. Through what seemed to be advice on laundry, Perez was inspired. Even though he was reminded every day, he did not learn immediately, but ingrained this into his successful language program, 8Belts. As Perez’s talk came to a close he shared his fourth lesson: “People won’t remember your success, they will remember your kindness.”
Wagler, the lead singer for The Steel Wheels, opened with Leonard Cohen’s song “Minute Prologue.” Cohen’s words, “but I think I can heal it with this song,” set the tone of Wagler’s talk. To Wagler, music has been a connection between his life and many other lives. Through his experiences in sharing music on a cross-cultural experience to seeing the variety of people gathered at a Doc Watson concert, Wagler has become aware of this connection. Though people often live under different banners, Wagler said, “when we’re together in [a] space, we can all come together under the banner of music.” Music has also been a connection for Wagler to the world. In recognition of a divided world, he encouraged the audience that in music we might find healing.
EMUTenTalks left audience members inspired to apply the speakers’ lessons to their own lives. Ralph Muestermann of Lancaster, Pennsylvania was struck most by Perez’s words encouraging him “to be daring.” “It’s very inspiring,” Muestermann said.
The crowd did not dissipate quickly, many choosing to mingle around the stage hoping to catch the speakers for a few final words of inspiration.