• By Alyson Heisler

Smart shares her story to highlight the importance of individual choices and helping others through

Minot State University hosted Elizabeth Smart as the first speaker of the Presidential Speaker Series in Ann Nicole Nelson Hall on Thursday, April 17. Students, faculty, staff, and members of the community filled the 700 seats in Ann Nicole Nelson Hall and the talk was also streamed live on the Minot State homepage.

During her talk, Smart told the audience her story of being captured from her home at age 14 in the middle of the night and held at a campsite in the mountains only four miles from her home. In the nine months that she was held captive, she kept her parent’s unconditional love in her mind to remain focused on her goal of survival — finding the true strength of the human spirit.

Initially after being rescued, Smart wanted to fade back into her life before being kidnapped and move on from what she had experienced but found that she couldn’t.

“I couldn’t just go back to being who I once had been — everything was different now — that I had to create a new normal. Even in that new normal in the beginning, I did not want to call out and share my story,” Smart said.

After describing her experiences on the stand during the trail of her captors, she decided that if she was able to tell the dark details of those nine months in the courtroom, she could tell her story properly. That was the moment she decided to share her story with the world through public speaking and writing a book.

She has since traveled across the United States telling her story to describe how she has found comfort in her decision to move on with her life and use her experiences to make a positive impact on others.

Smart also highlighted the power of the individual to make a difference on their own life and the lives of others, as her rescue was spurred by three people calling the police about seeing her in the area.

“To this day, I don’t know what made my story national news, but I will never stop feeling so blessed and humbled by the amount of people who searched for me and also all those who continue to support and cheer me on along my journey.

“I’m no longer sorry that this happened to me because of what it has allowed me to be do — the people it’s allowed me to meet, the organizations it’s allowed me to work with,” Smart said. “I’m thankful for the compassion and empathy that it has given me that I don’t think I would’ve gotten any other way.”

Smart has also become an advocate for the victimization of women and children because of sexual abuse or assault and human trafficking through the Elizabeth Smart Foundation. She started the Smart Talks program to educate college students on the difference between consensual sex and sexual assault and promote open conversation about the topic.

By speaking on college campuses, she hopes that her story can help students to be more observant and proactive in their everyday lives — now and in the future.

“They (students) are at the beginning of their adult lives and we don’t know where life is going to take them or what it’s going to throw at them, but if they can be educated on these topics now from an actual survivor hopefully it will inspire them to make a difference — to pick up the phone, to call the police if they see something happening,” Smart said.

Smart has also used her platform to demonstrate the importance of a person’s choices in life instead of the experiences that happen to them.

“At the end of the day, every single one of us has a story, every single one of us has had something happen to them — it’s easy to allow those experiences to overwhelm us or become who we are, but they’re not what make us who we are,” Smart said.

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