Speaking to thousands of Utah students in public schools, motivational speaker and evangelist Nick Vujicic on Thursday shared how he overcame bullying and other challenges in his life: "It’s my faith in Jesus Christ."
Vujicic, who was born without limbs, also pointed out the only other item on his elevated stage at Bryant Middle School: "My favorite book is here, the Bible."
The hourlong assembly was simulcast and streamed live, so that about 200 schools across Utah could watch. Sponsored by Standing Together, a group of evangelical Utah churches, it will be available on the Utah Education Network (uen.org) for other schools to watch later.
Vujicic’s speech focused on the impact of teasing and bullying and on suicide. Gov. Gary Herbert, when introducing Vujicic, said, "It’s one of these days that could be life-changing."
The Serbian Australian evangelist was born with tetramelia syndrome, a rare condition in which all four limbs are missing. He was bullied as a youth, he told the students, and contemplated suicide at age 10. While sitting in a bathtub, he considered simply rolling over. But the thought of his parents finding him stopped him, Vujicic said.
"I don’t need to look like anybody else," he said. And true friends, he added, "won’t judge you for how you look."
Everyone is unique and has their own purpose in life, he said, frequently telling the students he loved them and urging them to love themselves. "You have to love yourself in a humble way, not in a prideful way."
Vujicic asked the audience of about 400 teens to close their eyes and raise their hands, then make a fist to answer yes to his questions. He asked who had considered giving up, who had considered giving up because of bullying or had considered suicide.
About one in four students closed their fist in response to the suicide question, he told them.
He asked the audience to stand and make a commitment to stop teasing and bullying. "It stops when you stop," he said.
Seventh-grader William Barrueta said after the assembly, "I was amazed. I thought he was going to be like all the other people, but he was actually amazing."
Eight-grader Alexander Mendoza added, "I thought it was really inspiring and opened my eyes to bullying and loving each other and being more kind."
Vujicic has spoken at Utah churches, but this was the first time he appeared in Utah’s public schools. He spoke earlier Thursday at Roy High School, and on Friday will speak at American Fork Junior High and Spanish Fork High School, chosen by Herbert’s office.
He holds degrees in accounting and financial planning and wrote Life Without Limits, Inspiration for a Ridiculously Good Life.
Near the end of his speech, Vujicic told the children they could sign up on his Facebook page to watch a later speech centered on his Christian faith.
The Rev. Gregory Johnson, president of Standing Together, said Herbert "has been very kind to me and publicly supporting something in the faith-based community." He added, "I think he believes in Nick ... and thank [the governor] for having the courage to make this available."
Asked about the governor’s sponsorship of the speaker, Karen McCreary, executive director of ACLU of Utah, said she didn’t think it was a problem as long as there was equal access.
When President Barack Obama started giving back-to-school, midday speeches to students several years ago, Utah school districts sent notices to parents about that Obama speech. Hundreds of Utah students opted out due to fears that the president would use it to promote an agenda.
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