Jade Olurin ’17

On June 5, 2002, Elizabeth Smart was taken from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah.

During her nine months of captivity, she was subjected to unspeakable abuse by her captors, yet maintained an unshakeable will to live. On March 12, 2003, she was rescued by police and reunited with her family.

I met Elizabeth at the Common Wealth Awards in the Dupont Hotel, where she was honored with the award for public service. Her speech, which had to allow frequent pauses for applause, was one of hope and the importance of moving forward. Unafraid of recounting her experiences, she told the audience how, during her captivity, when she thought about cases like hers, it was unusual for authorities to find the victim alive. It was then that the fourteen-year-old self decided to “do whatever it took to survive.”  Holding on to her devout Mormon faith and the knowledge of her family’s love for her, Smart displayed a resilience that carried her through to the end of her captivity and her present life.

While explaining how she was able to move on with her life and commit herself to helping others, Smart shared advice she was given by her mother upon her return: “That man stole nine months of your life; don’t let him take any more.”  This mindset drove Elizabeth to live her life freely and enabled her to do the work for which she won her award: protecting the right to childhood. While advocating for child safety, Smart has supported policies such as the AMBER Alert and shown other victims that there is life after tragedy.

Possessing a strength my dad described as “the kind you hope you have, but never want to have to use,” Elizabeth Smart is a prime example of living a happy life despite the circumstances, and of using one’s experiences to make the world a better place.