Students and faculty of Itasca Community College (ICC) gathered together to enjoy each other’s talents at the second annual school variety show Wednesday, April 10 at the Chucker Auditorium. The diverse performances ranged from musical talents to comedy to dance numbers. The Building Bridges Variety Show highlighted the talents of many and brought to light some of the work being done on campus to make connections and increase inclusion.

Sociology teacher Suzanne Starr joined with Student Life Coordinator Kayley Schoonmaker to bring the Building Bridges Variety Show to life. The idea to put on a variety show came to Starr last year as she entered her first year of teaching at ICC.

“I noticed the stage seemed to be a bit ‘dusty,’ and I had a few students who had musical and spoken word gifts who seemed interested in sharing them,” Starr said. “I've spent a lot of time on stage throughout my life, and know how much fun it is, and figured this was something I could help bring to life at ICC.”

The theme of “Building Bridges” was chosen in support of ICC’s dedication to diversity, equity and inclusion.

“This isn't a talent contest, there are no winners,” Starr said. “We're all winners, and this is about sharing gifts and finding wings.”

Student Avery Beyer chose to participate in the show because she liked the theme of building bridges. Beyer sang the song “Riptide” by Vance Joy while playing the ukulele to start the variety show.

“I really like that song. It’s just happy and I thought it might be a good way to start the show off,” Beyer said.

Ariana Aitken, a student at ICC, participated in last year’s variety show and expressed her appreciation for Starr. Aitken performed the song “Read All About” and played the piano. Speaking to Aitken after the show, she said she also enjoyed seeing the different talents of her peers and teachers.

“Yesterday was just so beautiful,” Aitken said. “It was crazy to see everyone in each of their own elements.”

Reflecting the show’s theme, Starr presented a Pan-African flag quilt that was created in February in honor of Black History Month. As the program coordinator for the Associate of Arts (AA) Learning Community on campus, Starr works to bring “enrichment opportunities” to students pursuing their AA degree.

“I am particularly interested in just looking at the human condition and how we educate about that,” Starr said.

The quilt was sewn together with the help of Cindy Hilligoff. The flag features three horizontal stripes in the colors red, black and green. According to the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA), which formally adopted the flag in 1920, the colors of the flag each have their own significance. Red represents “the blood that unites all people of Black African ancestry, and shed for liberation.” Black symbolizes “black people whose existence as a nation though not a nation-state, is affirmed by the existences of the flag.” Finally, green was chosen to portray “the abundant natural wealth of Africa.”

Starr explained the flag “as a symbol and as an acknowledgment to empower and celebrate people with African ancestry.”

Additionally, the quilted flag featured 135 signatures from students on campus that Starr gathered from sitting in the campus cafeteria with the quilt.

“It was a playful way to educate,” Starr said. “It was a chance to educate students and rally students around this idea of this issue of race and racism and to think of it and the reality of people who have lived with oppression and what is something maybe we can do.”

Working around the schedules of busy students and faculty is not an easy task. Starr said that, although it was impossible to plan a full rehearsal with everyone there, everything came together.

“I just encourage people to have fun, and remember, it doesn't have to be perfect. We are sharing love, really, and celebrating the arts and creating some magic together on the stage. The audience will love whatever we bring them,” Starr said. “And of course, life happens, and people cancel. Things like that, you just have to remember why you're doing it and assume it will all fall into place.”

Despite any challenges, Starr was pleased with how the show went and the audience’s response.

“I thought it went just great,” Starr said. “People were laughing and enjoying it. There has been really good feedback.”

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