Alexandra Theall ’19 Speaks at Latest “Life Stories” Lunch Series
Issue   |   Tue, 02/09/2016 - 22:46
Alexandra Theall '19
The Life Stories lunch series seeks to foster a sense of community by providing a venue for students, faculty and staff to tell otherwise unheard stories.

Sophie Currin ’17
Staff Writer

I walked into the McCaffrey Room in Keefe on Friday at noon to hear Alexandra Theall ’19 share her personal rendition on the beauty of life, or as she so eloquently deems it, “The Improbability of Existence.”

Theall’s talk was one of many in the ongoing Life Stories lunch series organized by the Wellness Team, a group of students who work with Jessica Gifford in Mental Health Education. During these talks, a variety of students, faculty and staff members share personal stories about challenges and stimulating moments from their lives. The aim is to connect members of the campus community beyond the sphere of academia and to spark conversations about how challenges exist for everyone. It also strives to break down the facade of outward happiness that many tend to give off by making clear that most people undergo far more negative and complicated experiences than one might initially assume.

Annika Nygren ’16, a member of the Wellness Team, noted that the creation of this series stemmed from the observation that students’ external presentations at Amherst are unusually susceptible to being fossilized by the community.

“At Amherst, it is easy to feel as if you know much about a person simply based upon their ‘social résumé’: what their major is, who their friends are, where they eat in Val, what floor of Frost they study on, etc.,” Nygren said. “Through [Life Stories] I have felt validated in the knowledge that struggle is inevitable, and with a little bit of vulnerability and courage, we find we are not all very different from each other after all.”

By the time I arrived, the room was not quite full, but I was immediately surprised by the large number of people scattered on couches and chairs, making themselves comfortable in their seats, speaking to each other in subdued, but excited voices or grabbing their sandwich and snack of choice.

Theall began by explaining that her existence itself was uncanny — that she was born against all physical odds. Her mother had grown up in Colombia and survived a rare and, more often than not, incurable cancer before moving to Boston, where she met her future husband inside a random building while both were taking shelter from an intense blizzard. Additionally, when Theall’s mother was pregnant with her, the doctors told Mr. and Dr. Theall that their daughter might be born brain-dead. Yet today, she is a pre-med student at Amherst College.

Theall then described a moment in her life when moving seamlessly from day to day became difficult. The thesis of her talk was that during hard or unfortunate times, it is important to reflect on and remember that existence remains rare and life remains incredible.

After her story, the audience was allowed to ask questions. One exchange was especially worth noting. In response to her confidence in serendipity, a young man asked, “Do you intentionally go out and meet people or do you wait for miracles to happen?” Theall simply replied, “Don’t be docile about your life.”

The interaction between people of various roles, ages and affiliations at the event was very apparent. Whether through asking the speaker questions or continuing the dialogue amongst each other and with Theall personally afterwards, conversations crossing between all types of people and topics, were alive and prevalent.

Theall, too, believes in the power of Life Stories: “There are so few moments in our busy lives for us all — students, faculty and staff — to sit down and have a conversation about ourselves and our experiences,” she said. “I am glad that this lunch series gives us such an opportunity.”

If you missed “The Improbability of Existence,” you still have the chance to be a part of the Life Stories lunch series. Five more lunches for the semester have been planned, one every two weeks, all taking place from noon to 1 p.m in the McCaffrey Room in Keefe Campus Center. Speakers to look forward to are Angie Tissi, Tomi Williams ’16, Biddy Martin, Dean Charri Boykin-East and professor Austin Sarat.