by Julia Waldow ’17
Name: Abby Armato ’17
Show: “This Kenyon Life” on Sundays from 1 to 2 p.m. (Editor’s note: “This Kenyon Life” is modeled off NPR’s “This American Life” and features students’ stories about a given topic.)
Hometown: Downers Grove, Illinois
How did you come up with the idea for your show?
Over the summer, I worked at a really boring job and literally stood in front of a scanner for eight hours and scanned documents. It was the most miserable job. I’ve never cleaned up poop or had to raise terribly tormenting children, but scanning—just scanning—is terrible. And so podcasts were God’s gift to me for having this boring job. I began listening to “Welcome to Nightvale” and “Snap Judgement” and “This American Life” and “Thrilling Adventure Hour.” And I loved it. I’ve always loved storytelling … [but] I never thought about radio storytelling before I started listening to “This Kenyon Life.” I was going on a walk with my mom in the late summer, and I was like, “When I get to Kenyon, I want to have a radio show and it’s going to be really cool.” Because I’m a transfer student, I was aware that I was going to be behind socially … so I tried to pinpoint what I wanted to do from the get-go so I could go into school having a sense of where I was trying to get to.
Could you discuss the process of putting your show together?
It’s very haphazard. I try to send out an email the Sunday before and say, “Hey, this is the theme. Send us a story or an idea for a story.” My little plug is, “You’ve lived 18 to 22 years. We’re sure you’ve got a couple good five-minute stories in there.” I love listening to stories and hearing people tell stories, and especially in the beginning of the year, when you’re trying to get to know people and people are telling stories for free, I would try to keep tabs on who told what stories. Spencer Huffman [’17] told a story in the beginning of the year about how when he was younger, he couldn’t sleep with pants on. And I was like, “What a great story!” So when I had the theme “My Childhood Exposed,” I remembered him telling that story and I said, “Spencer, come tell that story on my show.” Sometimes [stories] are prerecorded but … sometimes I’ll have people come to the studio and tell their stories on air. My exact process is still in the early stages. It’s constantly evolving, but next semester, I’m hoping to find a process that sticks.
How do you come up with the themes?
This semester’s themes [were brainstormed] first semester, when I was terrified and procrastinating on work. When I’m scared of things, I try to throw myself into things that are benign, like picking radio show topics or watching Netflix or blocking a scene for a play I’m doing. Jessica Ferrer [’17] and I were sitting in Wiggin [Street Coffee] together and I made her think up different themes with me. I don’t think she particularly enjoyed it, but she did it and that was really great! We sat down and thought up 13 weeks’ worth of themes.
You mentioned earlier that you are a transfer student. What has that process been like?
Transferring is really challenging. You start the year before somewhere else, knowing that it’s not home. And so you spend a year feeling like a transient, and you spend all summer knowing … your old school isn’t really home, but you don’t know your new school at all, so where is home? I felt very lost. Coming to Kenyon, I had to re-establish social groups, and it’s hard coming as a sophomore or a junior, because freshman year, everybody needs friends, but later, everyone just wants friends. And it’s that much more energy for people to be like, “Abby, come do X or Y with me.” Having [my boyfriend] Derek [Foret ’17] here was nice, because it gave me instant [access] to groups but I was very aware that I did not want to just be friends with his friends because if we go south, I don’t want people picking sides or losing friends because of it.
Have you made a lot of friends through doing this show?
I didn’t make friends through the show, but I strengthened acquaintances through the show. I’d pitch to my class that the theme this week was “X,” and during seminar breaks, kids who wouldn’t normally talk would be like, “Oh my God, Abby, this crazy thing happened to me.” It’s cool because that person [would] share a story with me in class to pitch their idea for the show, but then all 11 other people in my seminar would hear that story, and [then] we’d all be talking about that time when something happened. It’s a really cool way to build a community.
Do you have a story of your own to share that goes along with your theme for Sunday, April 26?
The theme for next week will be “Life is a Highway.”
Are you going to ride it all night long?
You know it. If you’re going my way, I’m gonna ride it all night long. But yeah, my family and I take an obscene amount of road trips. In fourth grade, we road-tripped to South Dakota, which is a beautiful state. We went through these rolling plains, like you see in frontier mockumentaries. And there was this road, and there was terrible traffic, but no one was on the road. So, like, what was holding people up? And it was a herd of buffalo, just this huge herd taking its time crossing the road! And my dad’s pulling out his camcorder, and I’m pulling out my pink plastic Barbie camera, and my sister’s looking for her camera. And my mom’s like, “Aly, Aly, where’s your camera?” And my sister’s like, “I don’t know, I don’t know,” and she’s starting to cry, “I don’t know where my camera is. Oh guys, I hate this time of the year!” Because annually, you lose your phone while being surrounded by buffalo on the highway. That’s one of those classic Armato stories. I’ll tell it on her wedding, but I’ll sharpen it so it’s more humorous.
Do you have a fun fact about yourself?
I am physically tongue-tied. So the piece of tissue that goes up your tongue that connects to the bottom of your mouth goes up too far on mine. I can’t stick out my tongue past the bottom of my lower lip.
What is your spirit animal?
I feel like I’d be a koala, because they sleep 20 hours a day, and that’s what I wish I could do.
Any final parting words of wisdom?
I think people need to be more confident and excited to tell their stories. Everybody is so unique, and—not to sound campy or like a Hallmark card—stories are what bring us together. We all have similar experiences, and if we know we’re not alone, then we can find solace in that. I hope that my show brings people together, but I can’t do that unless people are comfortable enough to share their stories with me. I sincerely hope that after reading this, people will want to share more of their stories next semester.
Tune in to “This Kenyon Life” on Sundays from 1 to 2 p.m. on WKCO, and submit your story ideas to Abby at firstname.lastname@example.org.