HIV/AIDS concern draws students to street

Freezing temperatures did not deter annual march downtown and vigil for victims
by Jamie Soukup
WHITMAN COLLEGE PIONEER

For World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, a group of about 30 people gathered on the corner of First Street and Main at 7 p.m. for a candlelight vigil, supported by Blue Mountain Heart to Heart. The temperature was below freezing, but steadfast attendees brought hot chocolate, coffee and smiles. After grouping together, attendees lit candles and carried them as they walked down Main Street to the First Congregational Church.

At the church, a World AIDS Day Memorial Service was held. The Reverend Dr. Greg Kammann gave the invocation. Kammann spoke about finding a cure for the disease, helping to relieve AIDS discrimination and the stigma associated with it, empowering ourselves to change conditions that put people at risk and praising those who are working to help the cause. He asked those in attendance to periodically repeat, “Help us stop AIDS and keep the promise.”

After the invocation, testimonials were read aloud from those who actually suffered the reality of AIDS. While participants were reading aloud, individuals who had been wearing plain white masks since the vigil began stood up and approached the front of the church. They removed their masks and hung them, one by one, on a red wall.

Later in the service, Carolyn Dietzman and Travis Locke read aloud the list of names of loved ones who had been lost to AIDS, written prior to the service by attendees who wished to commemorate them. During this reading of names, individuals removed masks as well.

The purpose of this mask removal was to physically demonstrate the theme of World AIDS Day this year-“AIDS Has A Face.”

Sophomore Christie Seyfort said of the masks, “It was my favorite part of the service. It showed how the victims are everywhere and can be anyone.”

First-year Harry Fulop agreed. “The testimonials really struck me as really personal, emotional things to share.”

Alberto Galindo, a Whitman professor of Foreign Languages and Literatures, was the featured speaker at the service. His speech, entitled “25 Years and Searching for Home,” dealt with the concept of how human beings all seek the idea of home, and those who suffer from AIDS feel that need to a great extent. He spoke eloquently about how he refuses accept this time period as “the Era of AIDS,” because that seems to be a sign of resignation. He refuses to believe the last 25 years, in which he has witnessed the entire acknowledgement of AIDS, have been for naught; in that time, although we have suffered and grieved, we have learned and worked and are still learning and working for a cure.

Following Galindo’s speech, the Whitman’s female a capella group, the Sirens of Swank, sang the peaceful and enchanting song, “On Children.”

The Rev. Kammann gave his Benediction, praying to God for compassion. “It is this compassion,” he said, “that can help make our community a home.”

First-year Katie Weaver said of the event, “I think it’s important to spread the word to support issues that not only affect the Walla Walla community but also the community of the world.”

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