At an event for Heritage School’s first annual fundraising dinner, Elizabeth Smart met with struggling youth and gave a keynote address detailing her ordeals with a message of hope.
On February 6, Heritage School invited Elizabeth Smart, survivor of a kidnapping that lasted nine months, to deliver a keynote address and visit with at-risk youth receiving help from the school. Smart’s visit was part of Heritage’s “This Girl” program. The “This Girl” program is developed to help young women receiving therapy and rehabilitation at Heritage realize their self-worth.
Smart was kidnapped from her family’s Salt Lake City home in 2002 at the age of 14. Nine months later, after questioning from police officers who confronted Smart’s abductors, Smart was identified and returned to her family. Since her return, Smart has spent her time serving and helping victims of abuse in a variety of ways, including sharing her story of survival and lessons she has learned from the ordeals she had to face.
At her keynote address, Smart opened up about the night of her kidnapping, gave a look into the life her abductors forced her to experience for the nine months of her abduction and shared a powerful message of self-worth.
In her address, Smart described being taken from her bed during the night by her abductor.
“The next voice that I heard said, ‘I have a knife at your neck. Don’t make a sound, get up and come with me,’” said Smart. “I remember instantly being awake, but I just couldn’t believe what I had just heard… The voice repeated again.”
Smart explained she could feel a knife pressed against her neck and she realized someone was in her room, attempting to pull her out of her bed. Smart recounted that as her abductor removed her from her house she saw her sister lying asleep in their bedroom.
Later in her address, Smart shared some of the thoughts that ran through her mind the first night of her abduction. She saw her younger sister alive, sleeping in bed, as she was taken from her home. She wondered if the rest of her family had been murdered and her sister would wake-up to that. She wondered if her family would think she had run-away. Smart mentioned recounting stories of murdered kidnapped children she had heard about throughout her life and felt she was going to become another one of those stories.
As she shared some of the details of the night of her kidnapping, Smart recalled requesting her abductor to murder her that night, before she was taken too far away from her home.
“I wanted more than anything for my family to know that I hadn’t ran away, that I wasn’t upset with them,” said Elizabeth. “I wanted them to know this wasn’t my choice, that this was way beyond my control.”
Before reaching her powerful message of overcoming adversity, Smart described the state of mind she was in at the end of the first night after her abduction.
“I felt so broken and so shattered. I felt so far beyond anyone’s help,” said Smart. “Who could ever love me? Who could ever want to be my friend? Who could ever accept me back? I couldn’t. I couldn’t accept myself back. I remember just lying on the ground crying, feeling so worthless.”
As her keynote speech continued Smart explained that she found strength to endure through the love she held for her family and in her faith in God.
Smart recalled focusing on remembering her family in particular, remembering the voice of her mother. During her time spent away from her family, she remembered something her mother told her.
“[Mom] said ‘Of all the people you meet, there are really only a few whose opinions on you truly count,’” said Elizabeth. “The first is Heavenly Father. He loves you so much, and that can never, ever be changed and that can never be diminished, He’ll always love you. The second person whose opinion you need to worry about is mine… I will always love you. Nothing could ever change that. No matter what you do or where you go. You’ll always be my daughter.’”
Smart explained that remembering her mother’s words had a profound impact on her outlook on life during her kidnapping.
“It didn’t matter that I had been kidnapped… She would always love me,” said Smart. “I had a reason to survive. It was when I made that realization that I made a decision to survive. I decided I would do what ever it took to get back home, because my mother’s love was worth surviving for. That decision saw me through a lot.”
Smart ended her keynote address detailing the events that led to her rescue and reunion with her family. Smart’s story resonates with victims of abuse and Smart shared memorable words of advice her mother offered her after they were reunited.
“She said ‘what this man has done to you is terrible… he has stolen nine months of your life that you will never get back,’” said Elizabeth. “But the best punishment you could ever give him is to be happy, is to move forward with your life… By holding onto the past, that’s only allowing him more power and control over your life. He doesn’t deserve a second more.”
Smart closed her speech with tying the horrible ordeals she faced during her kidnapping into a powerful message that we can overcome our trials.
“I don’t think the right path is ever the easiest path,” said Elizabeth. “But we have a choice, we can work through whatever we’re facing. We can work and work till we overcome it. Until we move forward. We can become happy again; we can become who we want to be.”