So, it’s almost midnight and I just experienced one of the proudest nights of my life. It started watching Drew practice this afternoon and then we heaedd over to the theater together. We arrived to a buzzing theater that I had never been to before. The Carlsbad Village Theatre is a special little place and I look forward to hosting many more events there in the future. After we arrived, Noah and I found a small Mexican restaurant to get a couple of chicken quesadillas, which were quite delicious. Drew was able to practice her speech one last time while I was with Noah.
I returned to the prep room as my partner in the project, Jeff Salz, was prepping everyone for the evening. There were deep breaths and lots of chanting. Jeff’s son, Jack, came in and took us through a few fun exercises and everyone was ready for a great night. The night started with Jeff introducing why storytelling is so important and the power it has in our lives. Once he was done he invited me onto the stage to talk about how we met, a bit about why we are doing this and for me to introduce the first speaker, Drew Kesslin! How proud was I at that moment?
I’m not going to go into details, but Drew was amazing. She was confident, she was funny, she spoke clearly and purposefully and most of all, she had FUN! I told her earlier in the day I just wanted her to understand how it feels to be on the stage in front of 100 people, which she did. She was able to speak her mind in clear thoughts, connect with the audience, make them laugh and provide them with a powerful message.
Once Drew was done it was time for Diego Segovia, a burn survivor who was burned very badly at the age of 2. Diego has been through dozens of surgeries and told his story with grace, power, song, humor and a clear message about living our authentic self. Diego is focused on helping other burn survivors have a positive experience in life so he has a non-profit focused on developing burn camps in countries around the world.
After Diego it was time for Karissa Hannum. Karissa was so well spoken and thoughtful about how her brother’s autism has shaped her life. She talked about the day her parents thought her brother ran away, only for her to find him in their tree house the next morning. She talked about a number of books she had read to try to understand why her brother lives the way he does. Her powerful message was all about empathy and how the lack of empathy in our culture is killing us from the inside out.
After Karissa we took a standing intermission with Lisa Jaffe, Jeff’s girlfriend and partner in his work. Jaffe lead us through a dance that everyone thoroughly enjoyed. You could see everyone in the audience dancing and clapping with big smiles on their faces. I joined Jaffe on stage with all the other speakers and we had a blast!
Then we were graced on stage by Dydine Umunyana, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide over 20 years ago. Dydine talked about her experience as a 3 1/2 year old during the genocide, how she lived, how her parents survived and life afterwards. She talked about her anger and her struggle to find some meaning from all of it. At the age of 18 she had a powerful experience at a genocide memorial and realized that no matter what had happened in her life, at least she was able to live. At this point she only wants to have love in her heart. She hated for too long, it’s time to stop and enjoy who we are.
Finally, we welcomed Jeremy Poincenot to the stage. Jeremy is a remarkable 25 year old man. At the age of 19 Jeremy lost his sight and is now legally blind. Jeremy shared his story about how he went from your typical 19 year old college sophmore to a blind person with no drive at all. He talked about how he woke up and the journey he has been on since he lost his sight. Jeremy is a golf lover and has become a world champion blind golfer, playing with his dad. Jeremy was so thoughtful and delightful to work with. His message was powerful and his delivery was top notch.
In the end, the night was amazing. The title was The Night of Amazing Stories and it truly was. I can’t be more proud of everyone and I look forward to many more events like this in the future!
To the Age of Humanity!