My Freshman Experience

by Joel Young

Chapter 22

The Oberlin Oratory Contest

"No," Ms. Sanborn said. "I'm not 'friggin' kidding you." I could tell from her tone of voice that she didn't like my choice of words. "Reverend Stuart is willing to compromise his position if you will reconsider participating in the competition."

"Wow! He must really want to win if he's doing an about-face like that," I said. "Does that mean I can leave my speech as it is?"

"It means that you can leave your speech as you originally delivered it last semester," Ms. Sanborn explained. "You can include what you wrote about the persecution of gays, but the expanded parts can't be included."

"So, I would still have to edit my beliefs?" I said impertinently. "I'd have to back down and let Reverend Stuart tell me what I can and can't say about my personal faith journey? No way!"

"I thought you might see things that way," Ms. Sanborn said. "I told Reverend Stuart not to get his hopes up. But still, I told him I'd try to convince you to compete."

"So, you think I should agree to what he wants?" I asked.

"Not necessarily," she said.

That didn't make sense to me. "Why would you agree to 'convince me' if you're not sure it's the right thing to do?"

"Let me re-phrase," Ms. Sanborn said. "You should do what you believe is right. But, if I were in your situation, I would agree to compete. I understand that you think Reverend Stuart's offer would compromise your integrity, but there are advantages for you – and for your beliefs. You would still be able to stand before an audience and condemn the persecution of gay people; maybe not to the extent that you'd like, but it is an opportunity to share your point of view. And, you might win scholarship money; not to mention adding to your curriculum vitae. Things like that count when you graduate and begin looking for that first job. Think about it, Joel. You don't have to make a final decision today."

I was pretty sure that I wouldn't agree to be controlled by Reverend Stuart. At the same time, Ms. Sanborn made some good points, and it might seem unreasonable to refuse to think about it. "Okay," I said. "When do I have to let you know my final decision?"

"As soon as you make one," Ms. Sanborn said. "I'm not going to hurry you. I'll tell Reverend Stuart that you're considering the offer, and you'll let us know if you agree to the compromise."

"Okay," I said. "But, I'll let you know either way. I don't want to leave either of you hanging – even though I think Reverend Stuart would happily hang me out to dry if he didn't need me in the competition!"

Ms. Sanborn ignored my insult directed at Reverend Stuart. "There's one more thing, Joel," she said. "It concerns the Academic Committee. I know you thought that since Reverend Stuart is the Chair, you couldn't get a fair hearing. Had you stayed in the meeting, I would have told both of you that University policy would have required the Reverend to recuse himself."

"Recuse?" I said. "What does that mean?"

"It means that he couldn't participate in the decision about your issue. If your complaint involves Reverend Stuart, it wouldn't be fair for him to vote on the matter. In fact, he'd only be allowed to talk about it in a formal meeting with a quorum of the members present. He could explain his side of the story – in the same manner that you would be allowed to explain your side."

"That sounds fair," I said. "But still, since Reverend Stuart is the Chair of the committee, they'd probably want to side with him – just to avoid things getting awkward in the future."

Ms. Sanborn shook her head. "I see why you were on your high school debate team," she said. "Your mind automatically goes to the downside of any suggestion."

"Well, I was First Negative," I said with a smile.

"Of course you were," Ms. Sanborn said.

"Ah, but that's not all bad," I argued. "When I do make a decision, I've considered all the facts and possibilities."

After my meeting with Ms. Sanborn, I walked back to the dorm to get the books for my Tuesday classes. The weather was becoming warmer. Much of the campus still looked gray, but there was a hint of freshness in the air. I looked forward to greener grass and forsythia bushes blooming in their deep-yellow color.

As I entered Pilgrim Hall, I saw Peter in the lobby. He was reading a poster on the wall. "Hey, Peter," I said. "How's it going?"

"Hey, Joel," Peter said. "Things are good; no complaints. Well, no complaints except about the food in the cafeteria this morning. It was pretty bad. The scrambled eggs were cold and runny – worse than usual. And, they ran out of milk for the cereal!"

"I'm glad I skipped it," I said.

"Hey, have you heard about the Oberlin Day Celebration? It's in two weeks," Peter said.

"I've heard about it," I answered. "But, I haven't paid much attention. I haven't felt like celebrating the university recently."

"I know what you mean," Peter said. "'But, there are lots of activities scheduled. Some of them look like fun."

"Oh, yeah?" I asked. "You gonna' sign up for something?"

"Maybe," Peter said. "I thought I might get a team together for the 'Tug of War' games. What do you think?"

"I love a good 'Tug of War.' It's fun, and no one gets hurt," I said.

"Well, that's true most of the time," Peter said. "I have seen a few scrapes and sprains when guys are dragged across the ground. But, other than that, it can be fun. Do you want to be on my team? I mean if your ankle is okay."

"It's fine," I said. "Full recovery! Yeah, count me in!"

Peter and I walked down the first-floor corridor toward our rooms. "Who else should we get on our team?" I asked as we entered Peter's room. Tom had already left for classes.

"Mitch might be a good choice," Peter said. "He looks pretty strong."

"He is," I assured Peter. "And, he's very competitive. He loves to beat me in cards – and on the tennis court."

"Okay," Peter said. "You, me and Mitch. But, we have to have five guys. Who else?"

"What about Tom?" I asked. "I'm sure he'd like to be included."

Peter was sitting on his bed. He looked down and said nothing.

"What?" I asked. "You don't want Tom on your team?"

"It's not that I don't want him on the team," Peter said. "It's just that …"

I had no idea what Peter's concern was, so I just waited for him to complete his thought.

Finally, he said, "I'm not sure it's such a good idea to ask Tom to be on the team. I mean, he's strong for someone who's only 5 foot 9, but I'm really worried he might hurt himself. He had to quit playing football in high school because of shoulder problems, and I don't want him to get injured. He's the kind of guy who will do whatever it takes to help his friends, as long as it's legal and ethical, of course. But, I think in his drive to help us win, he might push himself beyond what's safe. I'd feel terrible if something happened to him!"

"Well, it's up to you, Peter," I said. "But, I think that's the kind of decision you probably should let Tom make for himself. He might get pissed if you make that call without discussing it with him, especially if his friends are all part of the team."

"I suppose you're right," Peter said. "And, I'd probably feel like a jerk if I hurt his feelings. You won't tell him that I was thinking about leaving him out, will you?"

"Of course not!" I said. "So, if Tom and Mitch join us, that makes four. Who are you going to ask to take the fifth spot?"

"Well, it looks like it's going to be a team of close friends. How about we ask Adam?"

I was pleased that Peter considered Adam to be a close friend. "That'd be great," I said. "He's pretty strong, and he hates to lose. When we wrestle …"

I stopped before I embarrassed myself. The only time Adam and I wrestled was when we were naked together. My face turned bright red.

"Go on," Peter grinned. "I think I know what you were going to say."

"When we wrestle," I repeated. "Adam can easily pin me to the bed. And even after a struggle, he's got great stamina!"

"Interesting," Peter said. "But, can he tug?"

I smiled before answering. "Oh, yeah!" I said. "Believe me. He can tug!"

"I guess you'd know," Peter teased. "Anyway, what do you think we should call our team?"

'"Well, it's your team. Your name should be in it. How about - Peter's Torpedoes?" I said, referring to his nickname in the showers.

"No way!" Peter said. "You know how embarrassed I get when people make fun of how big I am down there."

"Sorry," I said. "I was just trying to make a joke."

"I don't want the team named after me," Peter said. "We need a name that doesn't single out any one of us."

I took a moment to consider other names. "I know," I said. "The Plymouth Rocks!"

"Yeah!" Peter said. "I like that. We'll be the guys from Pilgrim Hall claiming ownership of Plymouth Rock!"

"Exactly!" I said. "But is it still all right to have Adam on our team – even though he lives in Wesley?"

Peter chuckled. "With all the time he spends in your room, that shouldn't be a problem!"

"Then it's decided!" I announced.

"Great!" Peter said. "I'll talk to Tom and Mitch. You can ask Adam to join our team." Peter and I high-fived, sealing the deal for our plans.

"Are your mom and dad coming for Parents' Day?" Peter asked. "Mine are, and I bet they'd all like to watch us annihilate the other teams!"

I hadn't talked to my parents about attending the Oberlin Day Celebration. As I thought about it, I realized that it was the same day as the oratory contest.

"Shit!" I exclaimed. "I'm reconsidering being in the oratory competition. I really don't want my parents here for that!"

"I thought you told Reverend Stuart that you wouldn't compete," Peter said. "Have you changed your mind?"

I explained that Sean was 'unavailable' and that everyone else had dropped out. "They'll let me use my original script, but not the one where I added examples of the cruelty gay people experience."

"So, are you going to enter?" Peter asked.

"Maybe," I answered. "But, I won't let it interfere with being on the 'Tug of War' team. I promise." I looked at the clock and realized I had just enough time to grab my books and get to my Philosophy class. "I'll talk to Adam and let you know what he says."

After my last class that day, I went to Wesley Hall to see Adam. He was reading a novel – written in French. "What's that you're reading?" I asked.

"Madame Bovary – by Flaubert," Adam said. "It's for my French Literature class. It's only the second novel I've read in French, but I get most of it. The book was considered obscene when it was first published in the 1850's. And I must admit, it's got me going!"

"Do you need some help?" I asked.

"With French?" Adam asked with a puzzled look on his face.

"No, Silly!" I said. "You know I only took one year of French in high school, and I'm far from fluent. What I meant was that maybe I could take over on the parts of the story that are 'getting you going.' I'm much more proficient in that language."

Adam grinned. "Oui, je sais, Monsieur. Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce souir?"

I knew enough French to understand that sexual invitation. "Oui, s'il vous plait!" I grinned back.

"Alors, laissez-moi enlever vos vêtements!" Adam said.

Now, Adam had gone beyond my ability to understand French conversation. But, I knew how to ask for a translation. "Traduire, s'il vous plait."

Without saying a word, Adam came over to me. He smiled as he began taking off my clothes.

"Ah! Mes vêtements!" I said, finally understanding he was talking about my clothes. "How do you say 'I want you naked, too' in French?"

"Je te veux nue aussi," Adam said. He guided me down onto his bed. He looked into my eyes. "Je t'aime," he said.

"Je m'aime aussi," I replied. Suddenly, Adam started laughing.

"What?" I asked. "What's so funny? What did I say?"

Adam continued to laugh, and I became quite embarrassed. Finally, Adam took a deep breath. "I told you that I love you," he said. "And you said …" Adam started laughing again. "You said that you love you, too."

Now, I was totally embarrassed! But, Adam's laughter was contagious, and I started cracking up right along with him. Fortunately, however, the feeling of our bodies pressed together finally took over. Stifling our giggles, we began kissing. Soon, we were both naked and in the throes of passion.

Sometimes, I'm surprised at how making love captures my total attention. I lose awareness of virtually everything around me, focusing only on the thrill of feeling my lover's body against my own. I love the tingles of excitement that run through me. The more intimate the contact, the more aroused I get. I crave the escalating intensity of sexual pleasure until I can bear it no more; giving in to my desperation and letting go - experiencing the ultimate joy and relief of orgasm. And then, being held in my lover's arms and sharing the sweet kisses of love and affection prolong my feelings of complete physical and emotional satisfaction.

That afternoon, in Adam's bed, I felt all of those things – as well as the immense pleasure of bringing him to the point of climactic euphoria. Afterward, we took a nap - snuggled close together.

Several hours later, I woke up when nature called. I slipped out of Adam's arms and put on my tee-shirt and jeans. Barefoot, I walked down the hall to the bathroom. When I got back to Adam's room, he was sitting up in bed. He reached out for me, and I gladly returned to the warmth of his arms around me.

"I really do love you," Adam said as I rested my head on his chest. He tightened his arms around me and kissed my forehead.

"Me too," I told him. "Or should I say, Moi aussi?"

"Enough with the French!" Adam teased as he tried to tickle me. I managed to push his hands away. He kissed me again and then excused himself to the bathroom.

Since Adam and I had slept through the cafeteria dinner hours, we went off campus to get something to eat. While we were waiting for our food at a local Mexican restaurant, I told Adam what Ms. Sanborn had said about Reverend Stuart and the oratory competition.

"I think you should do it," Adam said. "The first oratory you wrote was very clear on your opinions about the persecution of gay people. Even if you don't get to expand on the topic, speaking to a large audience and standing up for your beliefs would be pretty cool."

"That's what Ms. Sanborn thought," I said. "I guess I'll do it – even though my parents might be there."

"Oh! That's right!" Adam said. "It's not only Celebration Day, but it's Parents' Day too."

"That it is," I said. "And, I'm on a 'Tug of War' team with Peter that day. He's asking Tom and Mitch to join us. Peter wants me to invite you to be part of our team."

"That'd be great!" Adam said enthusiastically. "I'd love to! It sounds like fun!"

"We're calling ourselves 'The Plymouth Rocks.' Will your parents be there?" I asked.

"No," Adam answered. "I'm kind of disappointed. They're still in Paris, and it's too far to travel for just one day."

"If my parents come, maybe you can hang out with us," I suggested. "We'll adopt you for the day!"

"I'm not sure that's such a good idea, Joel," Adam said. "I think your mother doesn't like me very much. Remember when I was at your house for Thanksgiving? She didn't even want me to sit next to you."

"That was only because Komiko was there," I told Adam. "Mom has this dream that Komiko and I will get married and make a bunch of grandchildren for her. But, my mother loved listening to you sing, and she liked how polite you are."

"Well, maybe," he said. "Do you think they're coming down?"

"I'll call home tonight to make sure," I said.

I was famished by the time the burritos and tacos were served. I had skipped breakfast and lunch that day, and making love with Adam had drained me of almost all of the energy I had left. I ate like a pig!

When Adam and I returned to campus, I wasn't feeling well. He and I said goodnight, and I went to my room. I wanted to call home, but I decided to wait until my nausea went away. About ten minutes later, I felt like I was going to throw up. I raced to the bathroom and got there just in time.

I returned to the room to get my caddy. I went back to the bathroom, brushed my teeth, and rinsed my mouth with Listerine. Then, I took a long, hot shower. It was good to feel clean again, but then I started experiencing intense pangs of hunger. I knew I should eat something, but the thought of food was disgusting. I drank two large glasses of water to help me feel full. "I'll just hold off until breakfast to eat something," I thought to myself.

When I did go down to the pay phone later that night, I felt a little better. I called home, and my mother answered. I lied when she asked how I was doing. "Fine; no problems," I said. "Have you and Dad heard about the Oberlin Day Celebration? It's Parents' Day, too."

"Yes!" Mom said. "The school sent us a flyer. It sounds like a lot of fun!"

"So, you're coming?" I asked.

Mom was silent for a moment. Then she said, "Of course we're coming, Joel! What kind of parents do you think we are?!?"

I had learned that the best thing to do when my mother got snippy with me was to ignore it and just continue the conversation.

"Oh! I'm so glad you can come!" I said as if I were greatly relieved. "Adam is disappointed that his parents won't be able to attend, and I just wanted to be sure you guys didn't have some work thing that would keep you home." Then, just to ensure she'd stop being impatient with me, I deliberately played to her ego. "I've been a little homesick, and I miss you."

"Aww, Honey!" Mom said sympathetically. "We've missed you, too!"

"Bingo!" I thought to myself. I had been successful in changing the tone of the conversation.

"I think you and dad will have a great time," I said. "I've decided to enter the oratory contest that Oberlin is hosting that day. There will be students competing from other faith-based colleges. I'll be giving the same oratory that I told you about; the one I gave in the chapel last semester."

Then, I lied again. "I'd like it if you and dad could hear my speech."

"Oh! That's wonderful!!! Your dad and I would love that!" Mom said. "And, I bet you'll win!"

As always, my parents' expectations that I'd be better than everyone else upset me. But, I suppressed those feelings, too.

"Well, who knows? Maybe I'll win," I said. "But, I have no idea how stiff the competition will be from the other colleges. Oh, and I forgot to tell you. I'm also part of a team that will be in the Oberlin 'Tug of War' games."

There was silence on the other end of the phone. Then, Mom said, "Why on earth would you want to do that? You'll just get dirty, and you could get hurt!" That was the same argument she had used when she didn't want me to play football in high school.

"I'll be fine, Mom," I protested. "Actually, I thought Dad would like it if I joined the team. You know what a sports nut he is."

"Well, I suppose you're right about that," Mom said. "He does love that kind of thing. But make sure you wear gloves! Rope burns are a real thing, you know. In fact, don't even worry about it. I'll buy some new, heavy-duty gloves for you to wear. I'll bring them when we drive down."

I decided not to argue. "Okay, I said. "That'd be great. So, I'll see you the Saturday after next?"

"We'll be there," Mom assured me. "You take care!"

"Okay, I will," I said. "Bye, Mom. Love you!"

I hung up the phone. As I headed back to the room, my nausea returned. "Why am I feeling sick to my stomach again?" I wondered.

Mitch was in the room when I got back from talking to my mom. Peter had already talked to him about being part of 'The Plymouth Rocks,' and Tom had agreed to be on the team. Mitch was excited about the games. Before going to bed that night, Mitch and I played a few games of cards. We had fun, and it reminded me how much I liked hanging out with him.

After a good night's sleep and a little breakfast, I felt revived. I decided to tell Ms. Sanborn that I would accept Reverend Stuart's compromise. When I met with her later that afternoon, she seemed pleased that I would participate in the oratory contest. She picked up the phone to call the Reverend while I was still in her office.

"Ask him what time the contest is, please," I requested. "I'm scheduled to be in the 'Tug of War' games at 2:00 that afternoon."

I listened to one side of the conversation as Ms. Sanborn talked to Reverend Stuart on the phone. I could tell the Reverend was pleased. Ms. Sanborn asked about the time issue.

After the call ended, she told me that I would be speaking at 11:30 that morning. "But there is one problem," she said. "The awards ceremony is at 2:00, but you can send a representative to accept any award you might receive. Are your parents going to be here? Maybe they could attend for you."

"Yeah," I said. "I think my mom might be willing to go to the awards ceremony for me."

I called home before dinner that night and talked to my dad. He said he was sure that Mom would be happy to attend the awards ceremony for me. And, as I knew he would, Dad said that he wanted to watch the 'Tug of War." So, the plans were set.

The time until the Oberlin Day Celebration passed quickly. The weather had become much warmer, and the trees were starting to bud. The university spruced-up the campus and placed signs all around to help parents find the venues for the various meetings, banquets, competitions, and ceremonies. I have to admit, Oberlin did a great job preparing for the celebration. My friends and I found ourselves looking forward to the festivities. And, everyone was jubilant when the university sent out a memorandum discouraging professors from scheduling tests or having papers due early the following week!

My parents didn't get to campus in time for the special breakfast buffet Oberlin served the morning of the Celebration Day. But, they did arrive in time for the 'Welcome Meeting' for parents of freshman students. Mom and Dad came over to Pilgrim Hall after the meeting. I was in my room waiting for them when they knocked on the door.

After greetings and hugs, I explained that some of my friends and their parents were in the activities room behind the front desk. Mom and Dad said they'd like to meet everyone. Before we left my room, Mom had me try on the new gloves she bought. They were heavy-duty, cut-resistant gloves with knuckle pads! They fit me well, but I wished that Mom would stop going overboard – on everything!

A few minutes later, we entered the activities room. I saw Mitch, Peter, and Tom standing in a group with their parents. I went over to meet their parents and to introduce mine. The four sets of parents seemed to hit it off, and soon, they were talking amongst themselves as my friends and I stepped away.

"This is sort of creepy, isn't it?" Tom said under his breath.

"Yeah," Mitch replied. "I'm not used to listening to Mom and Dad talk about me to other people!"

"Hey, where's Adam?" Peter asked me.

"He's at the art studio setting up," I answered. "They're having a gallery sale of the student's work. He's going to meet me at the Chapel for the oratory contest," I said. "It starts in twenty minutes."

"Sorry we can't be there," Tom said, speaking for the group. "All of our parents want to see the Planetarium show. The university has been promoting it to raise donations for the Astronomy Department."

When it was time to go to the Chapel, my parents and I walked across campus. "I like your friends and their families," Mom said. "They all seem like good Christian people; the kind we hoped for when we sent you to Oberlin."

Without thinking, I let my sarcasm slip out. "Yup," I said. "Not a sinner in the bunch."

Mom gave me a dirty look, so I quickly redirected the conversation. "Speaking of Christian fellowship," I said. "Adam is coming to hear my speech. Since he'll be all alone, I was hoping you guys would sit with him."

"Of course," Dad responded. "Mom and I both liked Adam when he came to Detroit at Thanksgiving. I'm glad you two are still friends. He's a very polite young man."

"Yeah," I agreed. "Adam always calls me out if I say something rude or sarcastic."

"Good!" Mom said. "Bring him along the next time you come home."

Adam was waiting for us outside of the Chapel. Dad shook his hand, and my mom hugged him. "You will sit with us, won't you, Adam?" Mom asked. "We can form our own little cheering section for Joel!"

Mom, Dad, and Adam found seats in a pew near the front of the sanctuary. I went to check in with Reverend Stuart.

I found him in his office going over his introductory remarks for the competition. He told me that nine students were competing from other colleges. "One of the gentlemen won last year's competition in Tennessee," Reverend Stuart said. "But, I think you can outdo him – if you would just cut the last of that gay sacrilege out of your speech."

I was dumbfounded! Was Reverend Stuart going back on his word? Or, was he just harassing me in a final attempt to control my every word? I considered quitting the competition on the spot and walking out. But, the fact that my parents were in the sanctuary stopped me. Then, I heard the little voice in my head that tells me to do the right thing.

"I think it's a little late to change our deal," I said. "But, I know how much you want Oberlin to do well today. I promise; I'll do my best to make you proud. Should I go sit with the other contestants in the choir loft?"

Reverend Stuart softened his attitude a bit. "Yes. It's almost time to start. And, Joel," he said. "Good luck."

All of the other speakers were in the choir loft when I entered and sat down. I opened the folder that I had brought with me – just to make sure, for the umpteenth time, that I had my script. A student assistant handed me the last remaining name tag. I removed the backing and stuck the tag just below the upper-left hand corner of my suit jacket. I looked around, wondering if I should introduce myself to our guest orators. When no one returned my attempt at eye contact, I gave up. I noticed Adam and my parents looking at me. Ms. Sanborn and Mrs. Campbell, the Registrar, were seated right behind them. Then, I saw Reverend McAllister entering the back pew. I began to feel very anxious!

I was scheduled to speak next to last, so I got to hear most of the other oratories before it was my turn to speak. There was a wide range of writing and speaking abilities among the first eight contestants. As in the perfect bell curve, two of the speakers were poor, four were mediocre, and two were pretty good.

The poor speakers lost their places and had to repeat themselves occasionally. They only expressed basic and traditional ways of thinking about religion. The slightly better speeches included a few references to the writings of modern-day theologians.

The two best speakers had polished writing styles. They not only included a few contemporary thoughts about religion, but they also added some humor. It surprised me, however, that none of the first eight speakers said anything about their religious doubts or questions. Nor did they include anything controversial. When it was my turn to walk to the podium, I was so nervous that I considered cutting the more provocative parts of my speech.

Fortunately, I regained my composure as soon as I looked out at the audience from behind the podium. Just as I had experienced in debate tournaments, and in The Messenger when I had to take over lead role at the last minute, I felt a sense of calm. I was confident, and I knew that I could share my faith journey with the people who were waiting for me to speak.

I hoped that the audience would laugh when I talked about my dreadful, pre-school fear of death, prompted by my recitation of, "And if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take." The people in the pews did laugh, and they also seemed amused as I recounted how I had been taught to structure my own prayers in Sunday school – never being too greedy, of course!

The audience became very quiet when I shared with them how I now question many of the teachings of The Old Testament. There was a mixed reaction when I criticized the intolerance of society in accepting diversity – including respect for non-Christian religious beliefs, interracial marriage, gay relationships, and gender equality. I saw some scowls in the audience, but I also noticed a few heads nodding in agreement with me.

The last part of my oratory was about how I viewed prayer as a college student. I admitted to wondering if God really listens to every one of the millions of prayers that people from all over the world make each day. And, I shared my feelings of guilt whenever I asked God for more than I already have; for more blessings than I have already received.

"I am blessed with so many things that most people may never have," I said. "I have a loving family and good friends. I have a home that provides shelter, safety, and comfort. I have plenty of food and all the clean water I want. I have good health, and I have access to doctors and hospitals whenever I might need them. And, I have been given the opportunity for an excellent college education. Asking God for anything more seems like I'm asking him to love me more than he loves other people. I feel as if I am asking God to put my comfort and hopes above the needs of millions of people who are sick and suffering; people who don't have shelter, or enough to eat and drink; people who are living in fear and have little hope for the future. Now, when I pray, I ask God to use my life to help others; to give me the strength to stand up for what is right; and to make the world – his world – a kinder, less judgmental and more accepting place."

I looked at the audience, and I saw that some people seemed touched by my words. But, some were skeptical and probably thinking that I wasn't being completely honest. "They think that I'm not as altruistic as I claim to be," I thought to myself. "Better try to win them over." So, I added something extemporaneously.

"Today," I said. "I have tried to share my faith journey with you. And, it is a journey. I struggle with doubts. And frequently, I fall short of doing what I know is the right thing to do. Yes, it is true that I try not to ask God for more than I already have. And, I never want to ask him – or her – to love me more than others. But, I am only human. And, more often than I care to admit, I find myself asking for selfish little things throughout the day. 'God, please don't let me flunk my Chemistry test!' 'Lord, please don't let Reverend McAllister assign a paper over Thanksgiving break!' 'If it's not too much trouble, God, is there any way we could have a snow day tomorrow?' I guess I need to learn to express my day-to-day personal wishes without invoking the name of our Lord."

It was time to end my speech. "As my life continues, for as long as God has planned, my faith journey will continue. I look forward to that, and I have faith that, in the end, I will have fulfilled the purpose for my life."

I sat down to a nice round of applause. My parents were clapping the loudest, but that was okay. At least they didn't try to start a standing ovation!

I looked directly at Adam. He was clapping slowly – with a sweet, loving smile that melted my heart. "Maybe someday," I thought to myself, "I can be open about whom I love – and with whom I want to be."

I have to admit that I didn't pay too much attention to the final speaker. I was pleased with how well my oratory had gone, but I was questioning myself. How could I have done better? Were more people upset about or supportive of my comments about the Old Testament? And, what did my parents think about my calls for racial and gender equality – and acceptance of gay people?

As soon as the competition was over, I left the choir loft and went down into the sanctuary to find Adam and my parents. Dad slapped me on the shoulder. "Good job, Slugger!" he said. Mom gave me a big hug. "I knew you'd be great!" she said.

I almost laughed out loud when Adam only gave me a high-five. "Not bad – for a freshman!" he said. I knew he was purposely keeping his distance for my parents' sake. Still, I missed the hug that I knew he wanted to give me.

The four of us went to the Celebration Day luncheon in the cafeteria near Pilgrim Hall. Adam and I had a hard time not laughing when we saw the feast that Oberlin had laid out to impress the parents. A chef carved juicy roasts of beef and turkey, as well as honey-cured hams. Student workers provided beverage service to all of the tables. The salads were crisp. The vegetables and side dishes were all fresh and hot, and the desserts were catered by a well-known, local bakery.

"You know we don't eat like this every day," I said to my mom and dad. "As soon as the parents go home, it will be back to cereal for breakfast; cold-cut sandwiches for lunch, and mystery meat for dinner."

"Oberlin should hire a Registered Dietician to oversee their food choices," my mom said. "I think I'll speak to someone before I leave."

Dad quickly changed the subject. "You did a great job with your oratory, Son," he said. "Yours was the only speech that seemed both honest and personal. And, I liked the humor you threw in. But, I would have left out the part about tolerating the gay lifestyle."

"Yes, Joel!" Mom added. "You know what the Bible says about that!"

I looked at Adam. His lips were pursed, and he shook his head ever so slightly. He was telling me to let it go; so I did.

To change the subject, I asked Adam about his plans to take art classes in Paris in the summer. My mom and dad seemed very interested in learning more about Oberlin's study-abroad program, and we finished lunch without further uncomfortable conversations.

My parents left to hear a presentation about Oberlin's Placement Office for graduating students. Mom assured me that she'd be done in time to attend the Oratory Awards Ceremony, and Dad promised to be at the soccer field by 2:00 p.m. Adam and I went back to the dorms to change clothes for the 'Tug of War' competition.

Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead