Listen to Houston Hodges: “This I Believe”
Honest. Revealing. Spontaneous. Surprising.
All ways to describe the works that students produced in Audio Rhetoric and Creative Writing.
Yet hardly a word in the course was written.
“When I first began teaching public speaking at Wabash I was struck by the fact that the students who had natural affinities for and abilities in public speaking weren’t necessarily the students who were great writers,” says Assistant Professor of English Jill Lamberton, who created the cross-listed English and rhetoric course and taught it for the first time last spring. “So much of college privileges students who are great writers, and less of it those who are good speakers. This course expanded that other set of skills and encouraged students to think and communicate that way.”
An avid National Public Radio listener, Lamberton introduced students to radio programs many of them had never heard of: This American Life, Story Corps, This I Believe, Radio Lab, the Moth Radio Hour. They listened to audio essays by David Sedaris, Wallace Stegner, Jackie Robinson, and Edward R. Murrow, among others. They recorded their own This I Believe essays and StoryCorps-type interviews on iPads, recalled their first experience learning to read, and edited final projects that brought together their newfound skills of speaking and audio editing.
But first they had to be quiet. For seven days at the beginning of the semester, each student kept a sound journal.
“They spent seven days paying attention to the sounds around them, and almost every one of them said something like, ‘These sounds are going on all around us and I’d never thought about them or what they mean.’”
Lamberton is pleased that students embraced the projects.
“I’m especially proud of the guys who went to their families and recorded their grandmother’s voice, or their dad’s voice, or asked questions they’d never asked before, because I think having that family oral history is very important.
“One student discovered that his dad, whose job involves a lot of delivery, had received news of the Kennedy assassination, 9/11, and the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion all on the radio. One student interviewed his mom about music and its large role in her family. He came back laughing, saying, ‘My mom couldn’t remember her wedding song.’
“And I’m proud that they started to tell their own stories. Andy Carpenter is a four-time cancer survivor, and he had not spent much time telling that story in his own words or asking family what his illnesses were like for them. In this class he decided to do a couple of projects about having cancer.”
Senior Spencer Burk recorded the “Sounds of Wabash,” as sort of a farewell project before his graduation, and several students interviewed favorite teachers or coaches.
Lamberton describes senior John Penn’s final project:
“He’s one of five seniors who played on the baseball team all four years, and he imagined his project as a recruiting podcast for prospective baseball players. An announcer introduces him and his teammates as their walk-up songs play in the background, then each senior reflects on life as a Wabash student and baseball player—it’s very creative and a fond farewell.
“We had so many seniors, so it was a nice way to say goodbye to Wabash. But I think all of the guys did projects that meant a lot to them.
“Students in the 21st century are going to have to compose in more ways than writing, so I thought that telling a story, recording, and audio editing were skills they needed to learn.”
…It took me forever to calm down, and when I did, I started to think,Why did this happen? Was it because I wasn’t ready? Because we weren’t ready?
Even as my own dreams and aspirations were being renewed, I truly wasn’t happy. Something I had created was no longer going to be brought into the world.
It was an eye-opening experience. Before I had made decisions on impulse, searching for pleasure. Now I realized how naive and truly dumb I was. Now, with a second chance, I realize the great things I can accomplish, and I live every day with a purpose and a smile on my face.
I’m lucky in a sense: I’ve been through some tough situations and I’m better off because of it. So when the time comes and I actually have a child, I’ll be ready.
Yeah—I’ll be ready.
—from a recording by Houston Hodges ’15, for the This I Believe assignment for Audio Rhetoric