Cornell University: Soup & Hope creates connection through storytelling

Celebrating its 15th year at Cornell, the 2022 Soup & Hope speaker series returned to Sage Chapel after more than a year on Zoom with stories of transformation and empowerment – a theme that resonated with participants as the world continues to grow and change through the pandemic.

“I am who I am because somebody loved me,” said Zebadiah Hall, director of Student Disability Services, who opened the series’ final program on March 24. “I am who I am because somebody supported me. I am who I am because somebody had hope for me.”

As in previous years, the 2022 Soup & Hope season featured uplifting – and occasionally painful – personal stories from Cornell staff, faculty and students, highlighting the journey to finding and celebrating hope. But the 2022 program carried a bit more weight and meaning with the return of personal connection, a shared meal of soup and bread, and a sense of community among those in attendance at Sage Chapel.

“These past two years of the pandemic have held profound challenges for so many in our community, and those challenges have been exacerbated by the fact that so many have had to suffer in isolation, away from their communities and support systems,” said Oliver Goodrich, associate dean of students for spirituality and meaning-making and chair of the Soup & Hope committee. “One of the real joys of this year’s Soup & Hope series has been gathering together in person, albeit carefully and cautiously, and reconnecting with friends, mentors and colleagues.”

In its 15 years, the series has brought nearly 70 speakers, seeking to inspire the Cornell and local community with stories laying bare their vulnerability. This year’s series featured clinicians and staff from Cornell Health and the Division of Human Resources, as well as faculty members and students.

While the presenters’ stories and experiences are unique to their own diverse backgrounds, Goodrich said, “one of the common themes has been learning to claim the hard-earned wisdom that can emerge from pain and suffering.

“Each of our speakers shared how they learned over time that difficulties didn’t define who they were, and in response to life’s difficulties they discovered previously unknown resilience, wisdom, and perspective,” he said.

In her talk, Sokhnadiarra Ndiaye ’24 said vulnerability does not define you, but can move you to see your purpose. She spoke about inspiring others to embrace the challenges of life, remembering that they are only here for a moment.

“That’s the magic of Soup & Hope,” said Victor Younger, director of diversity and inclusion for the Stephanie and Peter Nolan School of Hotel Administration, a committee member and Ndaiye’s Soup & Hope mentor. “Every story can inspire, challenge, or move you to see beyond the moment.”

“We all have something to share and it is a privilege for our colleagues to be vulnerable in the moment and share messages of hope and inspiration,” said Kristine DeLuca of the Soup & Hope planning committee.

Soup & Hope is co-sponsored by the Office of Spirituality and Meaning-Making and Cornell United Religious Work; Cornell Dining; and Cornell Health. Recorded stories – and soup recipes – can be found on the Soup & Hope website.

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