Earlier this month, I attended Eve of Nations, an annual event hosted by OU’s International Advisory Committee. The event features a variety of performances by different cultural organizations on campus. A group of friends and I met beforehand to walk down to the Lloyd Noble Center, where the event was to take place. Among the six people in our group, three of us were Americans, one woman was an exchange student from China, one a UWC scholar from Serbia, and one a graduate student from France. Even we Americans were from a variety of locations: one from Hawaii; one from “the air force,” by which he meant all over the States (including Alaska); and me, from the central U.S. The diversity of our crew of friends was only a small foretaste of the diversity we were about to encounter.
When we arrived at the Lloyd Noble Center, we joined the long line to wait to go through security. As we waited in line, I marveled at the diversity surrounding me. I heard at least four different languages, none of which I recognized, before I even reached the door to Lloyd Noble. I felt as though I had stepped out of my every-day bubble and into a land of diverse languages, peoples of every ethnicity, and clothes of every culture. I also distinctly felt American, which was a surprising and rare feeling. I had felt it distinctly when I was in France; but there, it was expected and anticipated. Here, though, as I stood among the crowd of people from all over the world, the impression took me by surprise and with a greater force than it had even when I was in Europe.
After some troubles getting through security (apparently, you’re not allowed to bring purses into Lloyd Noble Center), our group settled down in our seats. We had a front-row view of the stage, right next to the camera-man. We perused the program while waiting for the start. The theme of the event was “Shades in Unity,” which was meant to emphasize harmony amidst the diversity of cultures featured that evening. After a short introduction speech, the event began with a fashion show. One or two students per country donned the traditional attire of their culture and walked (or, in some cases, danced) across the stage while a song from their culture and a slideshow of their country played on the projector screens.
Following the fashion show came the cultural performances. The majority of the performances were group dances. The Indian Student Association, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, United World Colleges, the Arab Student Association, and more all performed interesting mixes of traditional and modern cultural dances. I found the performance of the gumboot dance to be the most interesting. The gumboot dance is a South African tradition that began as a way of communication among black workers in the gold mines. The workers, forbidden to talk or drum, created a codified form of dancing to communicate. The dance performed at Eve of Nations was a continuation of this tradition—an impressively rhythmic mixture of foot taps and beats. This history of ingenuity and resilience in the face of oppression that this dance represented, combined with its rhythmic nature, made it my favorite performance of the night.
At the end of the evening, after all of the main performances were finished, a group of students put on the final performance of the night: an interpretation of the song “One Love” by Bob Marley.
One love! One heart!
Let’s get together and feel all right.
Hear the children cryin’ (One love!)
Hear the children cryin’ (One heart!),
Sayin’ give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right,
Sayin’ let’s get together and feel all right.
Let them all pass all their dirty remarks (One love!)
There is one question I’d really love to ask (One heart!)
Is there a place for the hopeless sinner,
Who has hurt all mankind just to save his own beliefs?
One love! What about the one heart? One heart!
What about, people? Let’s get together and feel all right
As it was in the beginning (One love!)
So shall it be in the end (One heart!),
Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right;
Let’s get together and feel all right.
Between each chorus and verse, a different student talked about an international issue: political unrest in Venezuela, the cyclone in eastern Africa, disunity and racism at home and abroad. The intermingling of the song’s lines with the tragic issues being discussed had a powerful and motivating effect. The last speaker of the night clarified a perhaps misleading message of the song: she emphasized that unity is more than simply having good feelings; unity is achieved through action. She urged all in attendance to seek unity amidst the diversity we encounter each day and to stand with each other and fight against injustice and oppression wherever we encounter it.