By Sarah Westergren, Staff Writer
// In one gym-packed, inspiring night, six strangers came together to tell their stories. Recalling loss, hope, grief, and self-discovery, students left that night inspired and optimistic for the future.
Students gathered in the Acalanes Performing Arts Center to listen to a two hour seminar hosted by motivational speaker Mike Smith on Saturday, January 28. Among the speakers were paralyzed motocross rider Darius Glover, actor Johan Khalilian, wakeboarder Alexa Score, long jumper Lacey Henderson, and school teacher Dr. Philip Campbell.
Over 40 students and parents attended the ‘speaker series’, a series Smith had earlier organized to motivate high school students.
The series began with a few jokes before speaker Johan Khalilian took to the stage.
Khalilian first discussed a youtube video regarding terrorism, which he had watched and later felt empowered by.
“I watched that, and I sat there, and I said, ‘Man, who in the world produced this?’” Khalilian said to everyone. “Because this is the type of life that I want to produce. This is the type of person I want to be.’”
Changing his subject entirely, Khalilian then reflected upon a particular incident he’d experienced while touring a ‘haunted’ house. Every time a ghost attempted to scare him, he’d return the favor with a scare of his own. However, Khalilian came to a certain conclusion after questioning his behavior that night.
“There was a part of me that was afraid of showing that I’m afraid that night, and that there are things that terrify me on a daily basis,” Khalilian said to everyone. “So I sat there and I was like ‘I just need to admit it, I’m afraid.’” He then turned the conversation towards the audience.
“Each and everyone of you in here is afraid of something. What’s liberating is when we can just sit down and say ‘I’m afraid, and I’m just like you, and you’re just like me,’” Khalilan said in one final statement. “And we don’t have to be trapped by fear anymore, because each and every one of us can produce a life that matters.”
Pro wakeboarder Alexa Score then took center stage for a chat of her own.
“Who here maybe finds themselves making excuses sometimes?” Score said to everyone. “Yeah, I love excuses as well.”
Score had grown up with one simple dream: to become a professional wakeboarder. Of course, living in rural Minnesota made that dream difficult. Nevertheless, Score found herself a girl in a small town, waking up everyday amidst dusty tractors to practice on the nearby lake.
“Now fast forward, and I’m still pursuing this dream as a junior in high school,” Score said to everyone. “Well, I start feeling sick and my bones hurt. I end up having an accident and going to the doctor and finding out that I have leukemia.”
Score now finds herself with the ‘perfect excuse not to go to school, not to take that test, and not to do certain things,’ but that doesn’t stop her. Instead, she continues to follow her dreams, continuing school and pursuing her passion.
“I am a survivor, and people call me a survivor. But I am not a survivor because I have cancer, I am a survivor because of the way I live,” Score said to everyone. “Because I choose not to make excuses and I choose to survive life. You have the choice to live like a modern day survivor, and you don’t need cancer to be a survivor.”
Next were speakers Darius Glover and Lacey Henderson.
Darius Glover approached the center stage in a wheelchair, where he discussed his accident. At just 15 years old, his motor bike slipped over a puddle of water, causing a crash that resulted in paralysis. When the doctor told him he’d never ride or walk again, Glover looked him in the eye and responded with a confident ‘no’.
“Sometimes you set goals, and you won’t always reach them. Sometimes they just get a little further and further. But if you work hard, eventually you will get there, and eventually you will find your purpose,” Glover said to everyone. “I found my purpose by just believing in myself and working hard, and now I’m the fastest paralyzed motocross rider in world.”
Henderson then spoke, walking to the center with one prosthetic right leg. (Yes, she packed the right leg). Joking about her numerous legs, Henderson discussed her battle with cancer, a difficult road that ended in the amputation of her leg. Though devastating, Henderson remained optimistic and took to cheerleading before adjusting to the life of a track and field star.
“Sometimes people view things as a loss, but I viewed it as my freedom. Sometimes you lose things. Sometimes something is missing in your life, and I learned that sometimes that can actually be your strength,” Henderson said to everyone. “There is one quote that I feel really resonates with me, and that is, ‘That which is most feeble and bewildered in you can be the strongest and most determined.’” Henderson is the first U.S. woman to make finals in the Paralympic long jump, reaching a record-breaking 4 meters.
Last to speak was Dr. Philip Campbell, a college baseball player who’d been told he wasn’t ‘good enough’ his entire career. In one story, he recalled of a tied game with only one out to go. A surprising twist, his coach put him up to bat. Though nervous and terrified, he closed his eyes and swung, hitting into left field and proving his worth.
“I encourage everyone in this room here today to go out and to live with all your heart, and to love with all your heart, and to believe with all your heart,” Campbell said to everyone. “And when ‘I believe in the young leaders of tomorrow’ becomes ‘we believe in the power of the young people of tomorrow’, then I believe that we will win.”
Students responded with a large round of applause, before speaking their own mind.
“I really enjoyed it because it was cool to hear so many different stories and different points of view,” sophomore Laurel Park said. “I think I’m really going to take away some important messages.”
Park was not alone. Fellow classmate and sophomore Vanessa Urbina also felt the series’ impact.
“Everyone took the hardships they overcame and used that to give really good advice,” Urbina said. “You hear them and you think, ‘Oh yeah! Do good in the world!’, and it’s easy to say that, but when you look at it from their perspective, that really motivates you to want to do something good in the world.”
With a last few comments, the seminar felt complete, and the lives inside that gym had hoped, grieved, and cheered, just as those six individuals had so many years ago.