Making Friends by Lisa Zevorich

I've always been a little apprehensive about oral history. Before coming to UNCG, I had only conducted one interview, but it was nerve-wracking enough. Initiating a conversation with a total stranger and then sustaining it for an hour or more…I was much more comfortable reading history in books. So when we planned a project for my spring semester class in Museum Studies, HIS/IAR 627, I was a little nervous that the core of the project would involve oral history.

We had been told at the beginning of the fall semester that we were going collaborate with the Greensboro Senior Center to create a museum exhibit at the Greensboro Historical Museum. We spent the fall developing the project, planning interviews with the seniors on various topics, and brainstorming about how we could incorporate them into an exhibit, a short publication, and a public program for the community. We applied for a grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council—which we received! —and came back to school in January ready to begin interviewing.

When the time came for my first interview, I wondered if the senior I was interviewing could see how anxious I was. But somehow I completed the interview without incident, and even found myself enjoying talking to this sweet lady. With each interview, I gained confidence. I applied the skills that our class had learned in our workshop on oral history, figuring out what questions to ask and how to ask them for the most successful interview. I could not believe how open and trusting the seniors were, telling their life stories to total strangers for a project about which they knew little.

One person whom I interviewed, Jeanette Kercado, was particularly trusting. After a wonderful conversation, I asked her if she might be willing to lend us some photographs for inclusion in the exhibit. She began pulling family photographs out of her wallet and handing them to me! I felt honored by her trust. I took the photographs, scanned them, and returned them to her that evening at her home. As we sat on her couch and chatted for a few minutes, I thought about our project and the connections it had enabled us to make with people very different from us in many ways but so similar in others. Besides facilitating community discussion and documenting the stories of people whose histories would otherwise likely be lost, I realized this project had enabled me to make new friends. The exhibit itself was a wonderful way to share the seniors' stories with broader audiences, but it was these friendships that really made our community history project a success.