Foothill needs of a cause behind which the entire school can rally.
“Today, we are here to talk about character and getting involved,” motivational speaker Spencer West told students at school rallies Monday. “We all have the ability and responsibility to lend a helping hand to someone who needs it.”
West travels the country to promote community involvement, whether that community is in your own backyard or on the other side of the world. The 29-year-old is affiliated with the group Me To We, a group that encourages people to make a difference one action at a time.
West’s presentation was the grand start for Foothill’s annual Character Week, which this year is focusing on how students can get involved locally and globally.
West started his appearance by addressing the obvious question on everyone’s minds – why doesn’t he have legs? He joked that they were sawed off in a magic act, but then got serious and explained that a genetic disease forced the amputation of both legs up to his pelvis.
“I was told by the doctors that I would never sit up by myself, that I would never walk by myself,” West said. “Basically, I was told I would never be a functioning part of society.”
West stood up to those odds and learned how to get by on his own. His muscular arms are a testament to how ably he can get around both in his wheelchair and, when need be, by walking on his hands. He even demonstrated how he can perform a cartwheel, a skill he learned while on his high school’s cheer squad.
While West had many successes in life, cruel people continued to taunt him. They called him disabled. When other boys were playing sports, West hung out with girls. Thus, “I was called faggot, queer and gay.”
“Bullying wasn’t just a part of my school,” West noted. “It continues to happen. Bullying perpetuates hate. We can’t let this continue to happen in our schools and our communities.”
Students can act locally, he said, by standing up to bullies on campus and in the broader community.
“We need to have the courage to stand up every day and say, ‘No. Everybody needs to feel welcome,’ “ West said.
West told students how he made it through college, even when he felt lost at times, and landed a successful job in Phoenix. He was entirely independent and enjoyed professional success, but admitted he was not truly happy.
That’s when a longtime friend and mentor invited West to travel to Kenya through the Me to We program to build schools and other resources for families living in abject poverty.
“From the moment I went to Kenya, I felt peace and clarity,” West said. “I also felt sadness because I saw poverty firsthand.”
However, West was inspired by the Kenyan children who are so eager for education that they don’t mind learning in buildings that literally have no walls or any supplies. West was gratified to be part of a team that built small, plain buildings for students to attend school.
West encouraged students to be happy every day.
“Be thankful for the things that we have in our lives,” he said. He encouraged students to post online once a week something for which they are thankful.
The next step, he said, is to do something.
“It’s not always about raising funds,” West said. “It’s about raising awareness in the world.”
One action students will take is to support a Vow of Silence on Tuesday in support of Free the Children, a group with which Me to We works to build schools and provide clean water, alternative incomes and health education to help lift people out of poverty.
There are more than 20 clubs on campus that provide services to help others in need either locally or globally, Principal John Dwyer noted. This week, students will examine these clubs and choose one cause they’d like the entire school to rally behind and support.
“We have the power and the capacity to really do something and help others,” Dwyer said.
Motivational speaker Spencer West addresses students at the kickoff rally for Character Week.
Photo by Tyler Whitaker
Posted Monday, Dec. 6, 2010