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‘Human Library’ event promotes community stories

| Tuesday, April 4, 2017

With the intentions of fostering community and conversation, Student Union Board (SUB) and Welsh Family Hall hosted the third annual Human Library, where attendees were given the opportunity to loan human “books” and learn from the stories of faculty, staff, and students. 

Junior Patrick Tingleff was a head organizer of the event. Tingleff said he hoped to mimic the spirit of the viral Humans of New York blog in that the human books would share stories and inspire an atmosphere of communication and understanding.

“It’s kind of to teach people that everyone has a story and every story is unique and that we should value the stories of others,” he said. “In the Human Library, each person functions as a book. As you talk with them, you learn their story as reading a book works.”

The human books were selected by a committee of eight people headed by Tingleff. They chose people from the community who they thought would be interesting based on their life experiences. 

The library was scattered around LaFortune Student Center with a human book at each table. Visitors enjoyed tea and donuts while stopping around the tables and chatted with each person, hearing their stories.

Senior Louis Bertolotti shared the story of how he ended up at Notre Dame. After he was placed on the waitlist, Bertolotti said he visited campus, decided that he had fallen in love with Notre Dame, and was determined to get in.

“My friend, who was a sophomore at the time, walked me around campus and together we put together a cartoon book that made me ‘Notre Dame Guy.’ I fed the squirrels, I ran around the lakes, I prayed at the grotto and met Fr. Hesburgh,” Bertolotti said.

He sent the book to admissions along with a letter and was accepted into the Gateway program at Holy Cross, eventually transferring to Notre Dame as a sophomore, Bertolotti said.

“I couldn’t be happier,” he said.

At another table, junior William Dean Merriweather III shared the speech he gave unofficially at Junior Parents Weekend (JPW) in February, in which he thanked his mother for making it possible for him to attend college as a first generation student, as well as the University.

“My courageous mother willed that I be here, standing before you today as a student of Notre Dame, the greatest place on Earth, second to only Disneyland or Disneyworld. I don’t know, I’ve never been able to afford to go to either of those places,” Merriweather said.

Merriweather recounted bringing to the University’s attention the struggles of families who may not have been able to afford to attend JPW, but expressed confidence that Notre Dame would do everything in its power to resolve this issue.

In one moment during the speech, he shared an anecdote of the purchase of his class ring. When the total cost of the ring came out to over a thousand dollars, he said his mother informed him that she had been putting aside a portion of her paycheck since he was little for an occasion such as a class ring.

“It was at this moment, and many others before it and I’m sure many after, to explicitly see the love that my mother has for me and my younger sister,” Merriweather said.

Merriweather said that in hindsight he would give that speech again, but that he would make more of an effort to ensure that the people in charge of JPW had known what was happening.

At another table, senior Jack Riedy, told the story of the car accident he was in almost exactly year ago, and his journey to recovery. (Editor’s note: Riedy is a Scene writer for The Observer.)

On the way home from a meal with his girlfriend and her dad, their car lost control on some black ice, skidded into oncoming traffic and was hit by two cars, said Riedy.

Riedy had seven surgeries, was in ICU for two weeks and a rehab facility for three weeks, before returning home, missing the last few weeks of his junior year, Riedy said.

“Things improved every day pretty gradually, which kept me sane, that I had small steps back to normalcy…. it was an interesting summer because my only responsibilities were finishing up schoolwork from the previous semester which took me a really long time to do … and going to physical therapy and exercises and starting to walk again,” Riedy said.

He first walked again in July at a physical therapy center while wearing a Flash superhero t-shirt to commemorate the occasion because he “has a healthy sense of irony.” He accomplished his goal of coming back into senior year as if nothing had happened, not using his wheelchair, and eventually stopped using a cane in the Fall semester, Riedy said.

“This past weekend was the one year anniversary. I walked the 10k symbolically, which was big for me because I had been training for the Holy Half last year, and I got a full time job offer on Thursday,” Riedy said.“So I’m going to graduate on time, start a full time job in June and I have one more surgery left.”

Riedy, who also performs stand up comedy, says that he has turned some of his experiences with the accident into material.

Sophomore computer science major Josefa Osario spoke about her life with Ectrodactyly, a condition that causes missing fingers and toes. She underwent around 15 surgeries before the age of six to reconstruct her fingers for functionality and gain the ability to write and hold things. As she grew up, it became painful to walk and in ninth grade she underwent four more surgeries on her feet, Osario said. Her parents, new to the country, had very little experience both with the school and medical system which made it difficult at times, Osario said.

“It’s a lot to undergo, but it’s definitely not something that has made my life worse. It’s definitely contributed to who I am now, which I’m thankful for … it helped me grow and I don’t know what I’d be like if I didn’t undergo that,” Osario said.

Living with a disability has enhanced his understanding towards others, Osario said. 

“You see people who have things that you don’t know about and they might have a long story of how they got to where they are today,” he said. “I find it really interesting that someone can go through so much.” 

After relying on the support of her family throughout her life, Osario was drawn to Notre Dame because of the familial aspect of campus.

Ectrodactyly can be inherited due to genetics, but through her parents’ genetic testing, Osario discovered that it was just inherited by chance. When applying to Notre Dame, she thought that the odds of admittance to the University may not be so low after all.

“The fact that I was born with this and there was a 0.01 percent chance of me getting it without the genetics in our past … The chance that that happened, I thought that I might as well apply,” Osario said.

Freshman Zuramy Vazquaz attended the event as a way to meet people and learn more about the Notre Dame community.

“It was nice to hear people’s stories and noticing that you can relate to them and meet other people with similar interests,” Vasquez said.

A fourth installment Human Library is set to take place on April 12th in conjunction with Antostal.

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