Upcoming CHESS Speaker Series focuses on mental health

Chloe Palmiere, News Editor

The topic of mental health and the power of creativity will be the focus of the next event in Gannon University’s Reinventing Right Now CHESS Speaker Series. 

The event, titled “What Brings You Hope?” will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 21, in Room 219 of the Waldron Campus Center. 

Gannon’s chapter of Active Minds and SPSEA (Student Pennsylvania State Education Association) will co-sponsor the event, which will feature speaker Kai Roberts. 

The CHESS Speaker Series has been ongoing throughout the 2021-22 school year, and the series allows members of the Gannon community to come together and learn and hear from people impactful for the community and individually. 

Originally, the April 21 event was going to have Diana Chao as the speaker, discussing her expereience with mental health, suicide and other issues, but she was unable to make the trip to Gannon’s campus. 

Nancy Morris, an assistant professor in the School of Education who is in charge of this speaker series event, acknowledged it was a bump in the road but the group was able to overcome the situation when trying to find a last-minute speaker. 

“The good news is that Active Minds has a wide range of wonderful speakers, and because we needed to go back and take a second look at the speakers, we were able to consider Kai, when initially, he was missed,” said Morris.                                                                                                                                                        

“It was pure luck and good fortune that he was available on the same date and time as Diana. All in all, we are extremely happy and excited about bringing Kai to campus as he will present a talk that is high energy, full of music and still sends a really powerful message of hope to our students.” 

Roberts will bring his story to campus to share, influence and inspire members of the Gannon community. 

Roberts was a producer, recording artist and an educator while attending Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh as an undergraduate when he first started to experience symptoms of extreme anxiety. 

Once Roberts realized what was going on, he started focusing on his healing process. 

He would use music as a medication. 

He would also record his thoughts and frustrations in the form of poetry, which then led him to create an album that would encourage other people in similar situations and enlighten society on the true college experience. 

Roberts focuses on showing other students that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that they are not alone. 

Through his presentation and message, he hopes to give people the courage and strength to find their own outlets for achieving mental health balance. 

Morris was able to visit with Roberts and bring him up to speed on all that has happened at Gannon within the past year. 

“I had a chance to meet with him over Zoom last week to give him a little more insight into Gannon, our students, and what the challenges are being faced right now,” said Morris. 

“I wanted him to get a sense of where we were last year and what our student body has gone through to help give him some more context and connection for his visit. He was happy to try to incorporate some of that into his talk.” 

Roberts’ presentation is titled “Active Mic: Mental Health Through Music,” and throughout it, Roberts tells his story about battling panic attacks and anxiety. 

The event will be working with Katie Dickey and her art exhibit, which is focusing on mental health. 

“My goal for the exhibit is to tell a story,” said Dickey. “It is a story of pain and trauma, but also a beautiful story of unlocking new hopes and deeper understanding — even stronger empathy — through my recovery and through my art. 

“This was not the path I expected my life to take, and mental illness was never in the ‘10-year plan,’ but my gosh, the beautiful people I have met on this path have transformed me, and the lessons they have shared with me over the years are so worthy of being elevated. My art is my favorite way to include others in my story, with as little sugar on the edges as possible, and to tell people not only that they are not alone in their current struggles, but that they are worthy of a spectacular life. That they are powerful. That they are beautiful.” 

The exhibit and presentation go together from both speakers; Robert and Dickey being able to share the passion that they have for mental well-being and creative expression. 

The hope for this specific event, the exhibit and the CHESS Speaker Series overall is that they can influence people in positive ways. 

“There is really something for everyone in the speaker series,” said Morris. 

“All of our events have been diverse in nature and not only educate but also inspire.”


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