By Anna Bolone, The Miami Student

Dear World, the interactive portrait project aimed at uniting people through pictures in a message-on-skin style, came to Miami University on Dec. 8 for portraits and live
storytelling.

The event is one that interactively approaches reflections such as, “Who am I?” or “Who do I want to be?” and in particular, “How is this seen at Miami University?”

The social project started in New Orleans in 2009 and has expanded its platform all around the world. Dear World is touring at colleges and universities such as Miami so that students can consider their personal stories but also so that they can become more unified with other students on campus through sharing
story messages.

People were encouraged to tell a story through their pictures by writing on their skin the words they felt best defined their individual narrative.

Ellie Witter, the assistant director of the Performing Arts Service, said Dear World was not just about embracing short messages written on the body, though.

“It also seeks the story behind the story — the lived life that informs a line scrawled on a face, palm or forearm,” Witter said. “Come celebrate individuals and their stories in all of their diversity and learn something about a friend, colleague, or stranger  who in a small way is no longer a stranger for having told their story.”

While talking about personal backgrounds is one of the highlights of Dear World, there is also a component of embracing uniqueness and
diversity at Miami.

Messages of Dear World are often inspirational, hopeful and show growth and perception. Scott Walter, Miami’s assistant vice president of student affairs, is hoping that #DearMiamiOH, the hashtag used when sharing these portraits, will show not only the identity of Miami and Oxford, but also how that looks on
a grand scale.

“As part of the Performing Arts Series, Dear World is one of many venues for students, staff, faculty and the Oxford community to experience the arts,” Walter said.  “Dear World offers participants a unique way to express and celebrate their message and hopefully expand conversation on campus around issues.”

The portrait session took place in the Shade Family Room in Armstrong on Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Upwards of 400 portraits were taken, a number that is well above the norm for Dear World’s collegiate events. The Keynote Portrait Reveal took place in Wilks Theater later that evening.

I attended the Dear World Portrait shoot early Thursday morning, expecting to talk to some students about what words they were thinking of choosing for their photoshoot. But then, I decided to go through the process myself.

There weren’t too many people at 9:30 in the morning, but as I stayed longer at the event, more people came by.

There were tables set up with dry-erase markers for skin-style writing, little pieces of paper with  keywords to help people think of  a story and example images of what people in the past have done. In front of the tables was the ongoing photoshoot, complete with stools, black screens and even specific markings for where to stand in the picture.

At first, I was nervous. How could I think of something to define the story of my life? What was one story that best defined me? There are lots of stories that define me. It turns out, I was not the only one caught in this predicament.

Many people were openly considering what phrase best captured their character.

And where would I write this phrase? On my arm, hands, or even my face? I opted for hands because I felt like they would be able to present something bold in front of the camera.

While thinking about what to write on my hands, I met senior Ellen O’Neill.

“I think at Miami as a whole you see what the surface holds, but you never know what is beneath,” O’Neill said.

She proceeded to her photoshoot after I helped write “NOT MY PAST” on her arm.

When I finally decided what to write on my hands after talking to some of the hosts of the program, I came across Elly Cross, a freshman.

“I think it definitely lets people open up and share their stories and be comfortable sharing their stories without feeling judged,” Cross said.

We talked about being freshmen at Miami and dealing with the transition between highschool and college. She helped me write down my own words on my hands with a dry-erase marker. “BE FREE.”

I walked to where the photoshoot was taking place, folding my hands into a bird-like shape. The camera flashed, and my message was captured.

Later that night, I attended the Dear World Live Storytelling Event and Portrait Reveal in Wilks Theater.

The presentation started with a look at impactful pictures from around the world and in the United States, including children in refugee camps and runners in the Boston Marathon. They were stories of hope that captured people of all ages.

As the presentation went on, stories from Miami became more evident. Certain individuals got on stage and presented the meaning behind their skin-style phrases. They were stories that got to the heart of truly being an inclusive college community. At the end of the presentation, we were able to see the product of this community: a 15-minute montage reveal of the collective stories photographed throughout the past two days.

As I saw my own picture flash across the screen during the montage, I realized that being a freshman at college or simply a person in a new place is something that was shared by many of the students, faculty and community members in the audience. Every picture had a unique and essential narrative to go along with it, and Miami wouldn’t be the same without them.

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