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Lakeridge sophomore Sara Shallenberger reflects on the recent LO Speaks event

SHALLENBERGERLast week, I attended the LO Speaks event at the Lake Theater, put on by the Youth Leadership Council. The event hosted five speakers (three high school students, one college athlete and a local business owner) who told their stories and explained what they learned from their experiences. Each speaker had a unique take on the challenges they overcame — whether it was hilarious, heartfelt or candid. I learned a lot about perseverance, hope, and optimism, and went home counting my blessings. But most importantly, I was reminded that everyone has a story. The world isn't just a collection of bodies walking around and going about their lives, I learned. Your experiences, memories, hopes and failures make a story in its own right — but yours is merely one of eight billion stories spread across planet Earth. No one story is bigger or more significant than another. Our world is the largest, most comprehensive library of faiths, ideologies, knowledge and experiences.

Living in LO has a bad reputation when it comes to exposing the harsh realities of the world. We live "in the bubble" as our town is affectionately called. Hunger, poverty and homelessness are no more tangible than an image on our TV screens. But that doesn't mean that we are devoid of problems. Yes, in general we are well-off and prosperous, but at LO Speaks, I learned that just because someone lives in Lake Oswego doesn't mean they don't have a unique story. At LO Speaks, I met many Lake Oswego residents who had empowering, optimistic and moving tales. I learned that Lake Oswego is not an exception to the library of the world. Our small town enclosed in a bubble has as many inspirational stories as any other part of the globe, even if you have to look a bit deeper to find them.

LO Speaks also taught me the importance of sharing stories. If I came out of the Lake Theater a different person just through listening to five people, think what it would do to the community if more citizens felt inclined to share their experiences — to better their government, school or workplace. We might understand each other better — the reasoning behind our viewpoints explained, or our past experience justifying a decision. We might improve our institutions — through open communication about our experiences in the city, schools and offices, we could create changes in those structures to better suit our needs. We could inspire others — by sharing what challenges we've overcome, no matter how big or small, there's the possibility that we make even the smallest difference in someone's day.

Finally, understanding the importance of our own stories is key to taking care of ourselves. The first thing that comes to mind in this category is mental health. In Lake Oswego, especially in schools, there is a stigma against receiving help for stress, anxiety and depression-related issues, along with other mental health challenges. Hotlines meant to help struggling teens are turned into district-wide jokes, and going to the school counselor is a sign of weakness. Mental health in Lake Oswego has turned into an invisible plague. It's there, woven into our stories, but we refuse to acknowledge it until it's too late. What if we shed light on that ugly part of our stories? Opened the book and read aloud the paragraphs about our anxiety, our depression and stress? Might we become better, healthier people?

In my personal opinion, yes. And I think that the speakers at LO Speaks would agree with me. Telling your own story and listening to those of the people around you might shake the LO bubble, even if it's just for a moment.

Lakeridge High School sophomore Sara Shallenberger is one of two Pacer Notes columnists. Reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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