By Presence Massie
In its day, S.O.C.A.L. (Student Organized Campus Activities and Leadership from 2014-2016) was a form of student government given the task of representing students to faculty, staff, and administration as well as planning campus-wide events once a month.
In Providence tradition, these campus events are organized on visit weekends to give prospective students a taste of the community, letting them in on inside jokes, personalities, and the culture the school has to offer. The main goal of these events, however, is to enrich and add depth to Providence’s existing community by first serving and involving the students.
“What is an event we can do in an attempt to involve as many of the baseball guys and now, the new soccer men?” asked Bekkering, S.O.C.A.L.’s 2015-2016 president.
S.O.C.A.L. entertained the thought of a Mr. Providence show. The discussion included concerns about it being too gendered or offensive. Others responded that it was all in good fun and did not have to be taken seriously. Some thought it would be a good change to see a male-based pageant.
Bekkering and S.O.C.A.L. settled on taking a shot at this never-before-seen Providence event with the thought that if it did not go well, or if the event faced opposition, they could simply remove the event next year.
A year later, S.O.C.A.L. becomes two new groups; Campus Activities Board (CAB) and Student Senate. CAB organizes and hosts the monthly events while Student Senate focuses on addressing students’ concerns and representing their voice to the faculty, staff, and administration.
CAB, under the direction of Presence Massie, found Mr. Providence to be such a success the previous year and decided to host the show a second time.
The Mr. Providence pageant is tailored to modesty standards in that it does not include a swimsuit competition like traditional pageants. Rather, it focuses on the personality, talent, and wit of men at Providence under the evaluation of five Providence women: three staff members and two students. Ten men compete for the Mr. Providence Pirate hat in honor of our mascot Piet Hein, $50, and bragging rights to the year-long title.
The night begins with a simple walk on the stage where the men can show their style. As they strut one by one, emcees read aloud facts about the contestant, including his hometown, concentrations, and favorite classes at Providence. Loud, upbeat music accompanies the individual contestants as the crowd chants the name of their favorites.
The second portion of the night gives the contestants the opportunity to entertain the audience and judges with their talent. In this segment, Providence men who do not consider themselves singers, musicians, or dancers, creatively explore their hidden talents and bring their best for public viewing. Last year Colin Beveridge(‘18) left everyone on the edge of their seats by demonstrating his bull-whip handling skills, Femi Oyerinde(‘18) performed one-arm pushups and a dougie/salsa fusion, while Craig Whitt(‘18) avoided political correctness and impersonated presidential candidate Donald Trump, calling judge Angela Groom to the stage to examine whether his hair was real or a toupee.
This year’s Mr. Providence saw an additional set of creative talents. Nick Saldivia (‘17) performed an interpretive lip-sync to Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball,” dancing with both a silver exercise ball and a jack hammer. Daniel Hicks (‘20) courageously drank a shot of Tabasco sauce on stage and Gerrid Knol (‘18), wearing his suit, sat on stage before the audience and ate a Providence cafeteria meal quietly. Sophomore Collin Vis performed a classic trumpet solo of the hymn “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” before going backstage for a quick change and reappearing with an electric bass in hand, rocking out to the “screamo” version of the same hymn.
In a final effort to convince the judges they are the one fit for the Mr. Providence pirate hat, the contestants each answer an on-stage question read to them by one of the judges. Last year’s questions were pre-written in a style similar to those which might be asked at a women’s pageant. Most were superficial, asking the contestant who they consider to be the most influential person in their life. The men had the opportunity to take the question seriously, or use it to bring out a few laughs. Oyerinde (‘18) went the serious route when he was handed an impossible question.
“Who has it easier, men or women?” asked judge Angela Groom.
The audience roared to which Oyerinde took the opportunity to think of an answer.
“That question is flawed. You cannot limit who has it easier to gender because there are so many other social factors to consider.”
The crown did not go to Oyerinde last year, but to the contestant last in the lineup, Elgin Ball (‘19).
From the beginning, the cards seemed to be in Ball’s favor. Out of all ten contestants, he stood out and took a unique route by wearing a solid white suite. For the on-stage question he was asked what three things he would wish for if he were stranded on an island to which he responded, “The Bible, my friend Nathan, and Providence for the purpose of furthering my education.” When it was time to awe the audience with his talent, he went above and beyond.
With the help of his aforementioned friend Nathan Lewis, Ball crafted a soundtrack to which he danced, creatively mixing Hozier’s “Take Me To Church,” Drake’s “Hotline Bling,” and voiceovers of Ball and Lewis speaking to each other as though they were on the telephone. Ball almost tore apart the sectional stage with his solid dancing, adding edge to his performance. He choreographed his own blend of jazz, contemporary, and hip hop.
The crowd adored it and so did the judges.
Ball was crowned Mr. Providence 2016 with Colin Beveridge as runner-up and Josiah Vanderveen as second alternate, leaving Oyerinde far from the crown.
Oyerinde attributed his loss to the question he was handed. This year, he was determined to make a comeback and prove himself worthy of the title. He succeeded.
Once again, Oyerinde answered his onstage question on a serious note when he was asked, “If you could switch lives with a staff or faculty member for a day, who would it be and why?” to which he took the opportunity to pay tribute to his favorite professor who he considers a father figure and inspiration; Dr. Swanson.
It may have been his talent however, which won over the judges.
Staying true and authentic to the Femi Oyerinde the Providence community knows and loves, Oyerinde opened his performance by reciting Hebrew. Next, he transitioned to a pre-recorded voiceover of himself logically deducing his existence using the Cartesian method. Snapping out of it, he finished the act by singing and rapping a song he co-wrote with Providence alumnus Stephen Lewis (‘16).
Oyerinde was announced Mr. Providence 2017. The crowd cheered and once the program ended, he went to the stage to encourage the other contestants and the new Mr. Providence. This support was an example of the evident community at Providence which was the ultimate aim of President Bekkering and the 2015-16 S.O.C.A.L.
Maddie Silva (‘17) judged the event last year. Her take on Mr. Providence is insightful and can perhaps tie both opposing views together.
“I liked it because it pointed out the inherent absurdity of pageants. It is ludicrous that we are searching for this one well-spoken, snappy dressing, talented, Renaissance man to perfectly embody Providence. It’s not very human. Part of the beauty of humanity is our utter inadequacy with certain things. It’s interesting that we search for these perfect individuals, whether they be pageant winners, actors, maybe even pastors or professors… because they do not exist. While it is tragic, it is likewise a beautiful thing because then we can at least be easier on ourselves. Being aware that the pursuit is in vain causes it to be redemptive.”
She is right. The event has a flair of absurdity to it, a quality that is not unfamiliar to those observing and participating. Is one simply entertained by watching a man walk across a stage in a suit? Or is it the nonsense of making such things into a sort of sporting event causing us to examine and then laugh at ourselves?
“It’s not taking itself too seriously, which is a trap we fall into as humans. Mr. Providence is a reminder that it is ok to laugh at ourselves and it is ok to not be perfect; an ideal we unfortunately impress on others.”
While some may have questions on an event of this nature, there is no doubt that it is one which both showcases student’s abilities to prospective students and incorporates and gathers Providence’s student body, enriching its existing community.