The spirit of Nykerk is one of creativity, resilience and pursuing joy despite the struggles of life. The showcase of female empowerment and community has gone through 86 iterations, going back to founder Dr. John Nykerk and his vision of a performance competition which would allow the female students of Hope to demonstrate their intelligence, wit, and skills. However, this year’s version had to go through some serious, unprecedented decisions in order to comply with the COVID-19 regulations. With The Pull having been cancelled due to the circumstances, and Nykerk’s viability having been up in the air for quite a while, it was a shocking but pleasant surprise that the event was able to continue.
The event was launched synchronously online on October 24th, but all of the performances were pre-recorded. Each participant was not only physically separated from each other but, in order to preserve the possibility of seeing their full faces, was recorded in separate locations with video streams clipped together in a collage. Nykerk is prized for being a show of synchronicity and teamwork, and to have separations between the actions of one girl and the response of the next was uncomfortable at times. Nevertheless, streaming the video reduced the long logistical snags which occur in physically hosting the event.
The program kicked off with Dr. Ellen Awad, the Nykerk advisor for the past 15 years, giving an introduction on the program and some of the challenges it has faced time and overcome over time (including the 2008 Norovirus crisis and the 2014 move from the civic center to the fieldhouse.) She christened the 2020 Nykerk Cup Competition as “the most original Nykerk ever” and remarked that the leaders have “stepped up” in the face of unusual circumstances. The screen then cut to Katelyn Ornduff, General Chair of the Nykerk Committee serving as the Mistress of Ceremonies, who gave some background on the Nykerk program. This year represented the 86th annual Nykerk Cup competition, founded by Dr. John Nykerk, and the competition features three parts: song, play and oration. Also mentioned was the presence of “traditions,” essentially quirks required of each of the performances aligned with previous iterations. Many of these traditions are subtle, secretive or difficult to summarize.
Even-Year play was the first to perform, with a skit entitled “Guardians of Hope.” The main characters were the “Young Adult Mystic Squad” which are several Hope students capable of incredible (if not wholly practical) superpowers. The Y.A.M.S. face discouragement and dislike from the other students on campus, who judge them for their weird powers. The Y.A.M.S. are confronted by W.A.C., i.e Weatherman And Crane, super students from Calvin who can control wind and rain respectively. The Y.A.M.S. defeat, then console, the W.A.C., and show that they do deserve a place at Hope, and those who are different don’t deserve to be discriminated against.
The next act was the Odd-Year oration by Aubrey Brolsma (’23), who just so happens to be a writer for the Campus Section. She had this to say about the event; “I’ve been passionate about women’s history for a long time and have always wanted to have a platform to speak about it. We (my amazing oration coaches and I) just sat in a classroom and brainstormed and through that we decided that we wanted to focus on the legacies of women and what happens when great women are gone. . .I am a History and Classical Studies major, so this semester I took a class called Intro to Ancient Civilizations, in which my professor talked about ancient statues that were once all painted but then washed away. . .This idea of legacy getting washed away until a lie is the common thought was really intriguing to me, because with a lot of women the story gets twisted by their enemies immediately after their death, or sometimes even during their lives. After we had all of our core ideas solidified, I spent about a week writing my oration and another week memorizing and creating motions. In odd year oration we just do smooth choreographed movements (even year does sign language).”
The final act of the first half was Even-Year song, and they choreographed hand movements and sang to “Call Me Maybe” by Katy Perry. The movements were fun and popped out, and the synchronization was creative, like clock motions related to “you took your time with the call” and putting on hats to symbolize “all the other boys try to chase me.” Humorously, the “number” referenced by the girls is 24, and they held up little signs to show it.
The second half kicked off with Odd-Year play. The play centered on play coaches in a zoom call with an “Ellen Awad” character looking to build community despite the circumstances. They decide to travel back in time with a mad scientist and a time machine to ask characters from previous Nykerk plays (2017, 2018, and 2013) about how to build community. The characters aren’t really able to give a complete answer until they speak with the Fairy Dutch Mother, and this prompts “Dr. Awad” to say that Nykerk love is something that can’t be taught and must be learned through personally building relationships.
The Even-Year oration, entitled “Face the Fire” was performed by Megan Raisch (’24). Megan’s speech primarily focused on the imagery of a forest which has time and again avoided fire, and accumulated so many dead branches that any small flame could burn the whole thing down. Megan’s speech ultimately made the point that adversity, like fire, is sometimes necessary and can even be restorative. The performance was well done, full of good detail, and dealt well with the idea that postponing dreams is negative and a proper “controlled burn” requires a stable support system of family and friends to be wonderfully transformative.
The final event of Nykerk 2020 was Odd-Year song, which was “This is Me” from The Greatest Showman. The routine, like the Even-Year counterpart, was visually engaging and very well orchestrated. The motions were pretty and the singing was especially good, considering not everyone could be together at the same time. The song included some fun handheld streamers and the singers transitioning from “nunfits” into tie-dye shirts.
Ultimately, Odd-Year took home the trophy this year. A job well done by everyone, particularly in light of the unusual situation. Hopefully Nykerk will be in-person next year, but even if not, there is no doubt the women of Hope will embrace the tradition and make the best of it!