Today, I am standing taller after watching Standing Tall, a powerfully inspiring event geared towards bringing out the best in our youth, helping them soar towards their dreams, and ultimately help them resist the notorious pitfalls lurking around. Acknowledging the “challenges” of the past two years, this year’s theme was “Dream Again”, which was very apt.
Okay, I can hear you saying that even in the wildest realms of my imagination, I am not a 16 year old schoolgirl like our inimitable Miss. “Who do you think you are? Go and take a look in the mirror and grow up!”
Well, in my defence, I want to make it clear that I wasn’t just watching Standing Tall for my own benefit. Yet, my motives were not purely altruistic either. I have a heartfelt passion and concern for our young people, especially after the last two years of covid and extended lockdowns. In that time, so many dreams and realities have sunk like stones, seemingly to the very depth of the abyss never to return. Moreover, two weeks ago, I attended a two day course given by Lifeline covering suicide intervention. As a parent of teens, I did this with particular thought to the young people who cross my path, hop in my car or occasionally sleep on our couch. Yet, there’s a space well before despair sets in where the seeds of self-confidence, hope, and hard work can grow and bear fruit. After all, we might never know what a difference a smile or a few words of encouragement can make to someone else’s life. This is where Standing Tall fits in.
Anyway, although covid is still around and has been joined by a nasty flu, the tide has turned and we have new beginnings. In recognition of these renewed hopes, the theme for Stand Tall 2022 is Dream Again, which is good for all of us.
So, I’m going to recommend straight up that after you finish this post, you go straight to the live stream replay. If you know some young people, especially living in Australia, see if you can get them to watch it too. It will be available free online for the next three months. By the way, if you can’t get them to watch it, watch it yourself and try to drop a few of these golden seeds of wisdom and encouragement into conversation.
“Every student has the capacity to make someone else’s experience of school better.”
Hon. Jason Clare, Minister for Education at Standing Tall 2022
Now turning to Standing Tall, each of the speakers encouraged me enormously. As I mentioned earlier, my interest in Standing Tall wasn’t purely altruistic. I’ve been in a state of extended limbo after having chemo to treat my muscle-wasting auto-immune disease. It took me quite a long time to get back on my feet, the family had been through a lot, and I also wasn’t the same person that I was before. I didn’t want to go back. I wasn’t well enough to move forward, and certainly I wasn’t too keen to fast-forward too far ahead either. I didn’t expect to be here. However, thankfully that hasn’t come to pass, and ironically I’ve actually been a lot better since covid came along. I haven’t caught so many chest infections and I haven’t caught covid.
So, to use Facebook parlance, my journey has been “complicated”.
I have also given a few motivational talks myself. I’ve also written numerous posts here on Beyond the Flow touching on things. However, I haven’t written the book, and considering I’m a writer, it becomes more of a sin of omission than for someone else. Yet, at the same time, as my writing lecturer at university, Michael Wilding, used to say: “writing is a thinking process”. So, when those thoughts are incredibly traumatic, it’s no wonder the writing process pauses or even stops.
“What you are going through doesn’t define you.”
Now, getting back to Standing Tall, the first speaker, Duku Foré, really hit me right between the eyes. Duku was born in a refugee camp in Uganda and lived there with his family for ten years. His life changed abruptly when his family came to Australia as refugees. However, in many regards Australia wasn’t the promised land. It wasn’t easy starting out in a new country. For many years, he was the only black child in his class and also had a severe speech impediment. He was bullied at school, and also got into trouble himself. Despite all of this, he set out to inspire others through motivational speaking, and at 19 represented Australia at the United Nations. If you would like to hear more about his story, here’s another interview.
“Do something today that your future self would be proud of…”
I’m not going to go into every speaker or I’d be writing for a year. However, I also wanted to mention humanitarian and cancer survivor Michael Crossland. His journey is particularly relevant to me as he has overcome numerous life-threatening health issues, and is still here to tell the tale. Although he’s told this story many times before, he spoke with an emotional rawness as though he was telling his story for the very first time. However, his story wasn’t just about recounting his traumas. Rather, he has made what would be considered extraordinary achievements for the average Joe, and yet he has ongoing, diabolical health issues. How is it so? I don’t know but his mother also has this extraordinary fighting spirit. Grit. Tenacity. Supernatural strength and optimism. Michael is also a humanitarian and has given back, which includes buying a house for his mum. My words feel dreadfully inadequate. So, here’s a direct link to another motivational talk which overlaps with his talk at Standing Tall.
Another speaker I found particularly interesting was model and blogger Harmony Butcher. She spoke the dangers for young people about self-image on social media. Indeed, she wrote this enlightening post about self-image on her blog. As she spoke, she mentioned a statistic that 25% of people feel they need to change some aspect of their appearance to be feel acceptable on social media. Being a bit more mature in years, I found this statistic staggering. Yet, I just realized that I’m guilty of this myself. It’s exceptionally rare for me to have any photos taken of me wearing my glasses, although I wear them all the time. Indeed, although I’ve been posting here at Beyond the Flow for ten years and fairly open, how many of you have seen me in my glasses? Sure, it’s only a small alteration, but so is airbrushing out pimples, freckles or wrinkles. To be fair, this what we do with makeup anyway, and who really puts their real, undoctored physical self out there anyway? Well, let me assure you that aside from the glasses, what you see of me here is what you get. I rarely wear makeup in real or online life, but I’m also currently living the quiet life.
“Some people would do anything to have your bad day.”
I also wanted to share the story of Danny and Leyla Abdullah. On the 1st February, 2020 their lives were shattered and changed forever when a drunk driver mounted the footpath and killed three of their six children: Antony 13, Angelina 12, and Sienna 8, along with their cousin Veronique Sakr 11. The randomness of the accident and that one family would experience such a catastrophic loss, especially due to a drunk driver, was devastating. How could they go on? Understandably, there was strong community outrage towards the driver. Yet, a few days after the accident, Leyla Abdullah publicly forgave him. How could this be? Indeed, in her talk, she emphasized that she forgave the driver before he apologised. Extraordinary. She also said that “forgiveness is a choice. It’s like a muscle. The more you practice it, the better you get.”
Danny and Leila Abdullah didn’t stop there. They have created a national day of forgiveness, i4give Day, to remember the loss of their children and niece, and for everyone to think about someone they can forgive or ask for forgiveness. Forgiving others is critical, releasing our hearts from the toxic poison of hate, resentment and revenge.
The Abdullahs also had a special surprise at Standing Tall. It was their little bundle of joy and hope…their 10 week old baby girl, Selina. Of course, she doesn’t take the place of her lost siblings, but seeing a new life created out of the ashes was so encouraging. Indeed, I was jumping for joy in my chair.
“You can’t silence fear, but you can turn up the volume of hope and faith and drown it out”.”
Next up, was Olympian and long-distance runner, Eloise Wellings, who is also the co-founder of the Love Mercy Foundation. Eloise had some really good things to say, which focused on overcoming setbacks and disappointment, believing in your potential and to keep going. She also mentioned something I’ve observed, and that some young people had developed a culture where it is better not to try than to fail. That they use the term “to be a sweat” to knock down people who apply themselves. When I was at school, the term was “swot”. Eloise was really encouraging and said: “you won’t regret trying.” She also advised focusing on the process rather than the big goal. “Get the next step done.” Talk about good advice, and certainly applies to me and the book project.
Bella Taylor Smith deserves an extra-special mention as she not only spoke but also performed. For those of you who may not know Bella, she won The Voice Australia 2021. Bella has her own story of overcoming adversity and is now touring with Guy Sebastian.
“It’s not what happens to you. It’s who you choose to become”.
Last, but not least, there was 19 year old Alex Noble On Sunday the 21st of October 2018 16 year old Alex Noble was doing what he loved best – playing rugby. As a rising sports star he was training with the Under-17 NSW Rugby Sevens youth selection squad. Tragically he was badly injured on the field, breaking his neck and severely damaging his spinal cord. Since then, Alex has poured all the tenacity and resilience he’d applied to his rugby training into his recovery and has made incredible progress. He has also started the Alex Noble Foundation whose motto is “I fight you fight”. (I’m looking back at my notes now and I see the phrase “We are unbreakable” circled. I know from personal experience what it’s like to experience a gruelling physical setback and barely be able to move myself. However, thanks to a reasonable diagnosis with treatment among other things, I am now doing remarkably well!)
So, what were the take homes from this extraordinary day?
I think the bottom line was that even the most extraordinary dreams are possible if we work hard, persevere, and develop the resilience to be able to bounce back from setbacks. At the same time, we might also have to find a new pathway when our dream sinks, regroup and find another. Secondly, we are not alone in our triumphs or tribulations. When we triumph, think about others around you and pitch in. If you’re at rock bottom, you are not alone. Help is at hand. It is also possible that while you’re at rock bottom, you will meet others who aren’t being reached. So, even in the depths of your own despair, you can offer hope to others. Well, I added that bit, but I know it to be true. This is another of my own observations… we need to keep ourselves in good physical, mental and spiritual shape because we don’t know when adversity is going to hit and the bumps will be less intense if we’re in good shape. As the Scout motto says: “Be prepared!”
I hope this encourages you to check out the live stream so you can absorb and apply their wisdom and zest for an abundant life, and I would personally like to thank everyone who contributed towards the day for having such a big impact on me and my family.
Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you, especially if you attended Standing Tall or like me tuned into the live stream.