Students asked to speak up and save a life

Keynote speaker Jeremy Anderson calls out to the crowd during the Speak Up, Stand Up, Save a Life Conference on Tuesday.

Photos by Ralph Freso / Slideshow

We all have our stories, said Grand Canyon University president Brian Mueller.

On Tuesday morning, those stories unfolded for more than 1,700 students from more than 30 school districts in Arizona. Students at the Speak Up, Stand Up, Save a Life Conference in Global Credit Union Arena were urged to be leaders to save others from suicide, from bullying, from the anguish of mental health problems, or to recognize they need help themselves and to ask for it.

Speak Up, Stand Up, Save a Life co-founder Gina Godbehere welcomes students and faculty from local school districts to the Speak Up, Stand Up, Save a Life Conference.

STORY: Gina Godbehere, co-founder of Speak Up, Stand Up, Save a Life

In February 2016, the longtime prosecutor was called to an area high school where two girls were found dead in a heartbreaking murder-suicide. Afterward, she realized that, like so many school tragedies, there had been warning signs but no one said or did anything to prevent it. She wanted to create a solution – a way for students to identify those who need help and what to do with the information.

She created a nonprofit and, seven years ago, held the first conference. It attracted nearly 1,000 students, so organizers moved it to Grand Canyon University. It grew to 4,000 before the pandemic forced it to a virtual format. GCU’s large arena, student worker help and partnership “has allowed it to bring students across the state together and empower them and share the message so they can go back to their communities and be the difference makers,” Godbehere said in an interview.

“For GCU, it’s a natural alignment to who we are,” said Dr. Cherryl Paul, GCU K12 Educational Development Department assistant vice president. “It’s all about elevating and uplifting others.”

Godbehere told the students they were here to do away with the stigma of being a “tattletale” that prevents one from speaking up if they see a classmate abused, bullied or in need of mental health help.

“Why are you here? Because we need you to be leaders and ambassadors,” Godbehere said. “We need you to take this back to your communities and help spread the word. You have the power to be a difference maker in someone’s life.”

In Maricopa County, 13.5% of suicide victims were age 24 and younger from 2017-2023, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

“Help is just a phone call or a text away,” she said.

GCU President Brian Mueller shares ideas on how students can be of help during the Speak Up, Stand Up, Save a Life Conference.

STORY: GCU President Brian Mueller

The cause is important to Mueller.

“We all have our stories. I’m 70 years old now. My brother would be 65 if he were living, but he is not. He died when he was 51. He suffered from depression most his life.

“I moved around the country, and he would live with my wife and I. Literally, there would be times I would leave for work, and he would be lying on the couch staring at the ceiling, and then I would come home later in the evening and he would still be there.

“Depression, one form of mental illness, is a very real thing. It is a disease like other diseases. It can be absolutely crippling. It can lead to all kinds of bad things. The good thing, unlike when my brother died, there is so much attention being paid to this today.”

More studies, research and treatments are done today to help people lead productive lives, and Mueller urged students to help, to “pour into the lives of hundreds and thousands of people if you choose to be a mental health care professional” – and GCU has one of the nation’s largest counseling education programs.

Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell talks to students about the many help options in the state.

STORY: Rachel Mitchell, Maricopa County Attorney and GCU alumna

Mitchell’s office oversees the prosecution of crimes, but she’s been involved with the Speak Up group since its inception because she’d like to prevent them. For 25 years, she has been trying to protect kids who were victims of crime.

“I’d rather not be dealing with people involved with drugs because they are depressed. I'd rather they be healthy and productive members of society,” she told the group. “You can do something I can’t. You can reach out to your peers and talk to them and help them.

“You were created for a purpose, and if you believe in God, God designed what that purpose is going to be. … When you look back at your career, or even your high school time, and can say, ‘You know, I made a difference in somebody’s life,’ and that’s an incredible feeling.”

She told them that when someone says they are hurting, it's an honor to accept that trust and to help.

“If you help them and tell someone responsible to get them help, is that tattling? No. It may save a life.”

When you feel alone and isolated, tell someone. “You have a purpose, you are made for community and you are loved.”

Keynote speaker Jeremy Anderson talks about the importance of accessing help for yourself and others during the Speak Up, Stand Up, Save a Life Conference.

STORY: Jeremy Anderson, motivational keynote speaker from Atlanta, Georgia

Anderson added more inspiration and energy to the all-day conference at midmorning by telling his story of growing up with an absent father, his drug and alcohol abuse and dropping out of school. Then he met a teacher with cancer who still showed up for work every day. He asked her why she was working while fighting for her life.

“Jeremy you are fighting for your life, too,” she told him.

“That made me feel worthy of love,” Anderson said.

He began to see the challenges of others and how they overcame them. He began to take responsibility for his behavior. He eventually graduated from high school, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees, wrote a book, and in 2012, started a nonprofit to share his message.

One hurdle, he said, is negative self-talk that you are not good enough or that you’ve been dealt bad luck.

“Everything you have been going through is temporary,” he said. “Your condition is not your conclusion.”

Anderson said the worse thing to do is suffer in silence, alone in the corner with your struggles, looking at social media and the image of perfection others are selling on Instagram. Everyone has struggles. He said that even he has a marriage counselor and a therapist.

“When you find those safe spaces with adults you trust and when you are honest with how you feel, it’s a game-changer,” he said.

Students from more than 30 school districts attended the Speak Up, Stand Up, Save a Life Conference.

Instead of self-medicating with a harmful substance, you help yourself, love yourself.

“Maya Angelou once said, 'I don’t trust people who don’t love themselves, because how can you love me if you don’t love yourself.’”

You have to be intentional about loving yourself by starting to redirect the up to 60,000 thoughts you have a day – 85% percent of which are negative, according to a Harvard study, he said.

“You got to ask yourself, what are you telling yourself? When you look in the mirror in the morning, what are you telling yourself? … Take an audit of what is going on in your mind.

“You see, what you think is what you say, what you say is what you do, what you do on a regular basis becomes your habits, your habits create your character and your character determines your destiny.”

It all starts in your mind, so speak up for yourself and save yourself.

And stand up to save one another.

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected]

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