Butler University senior Marketing major Abby Smith has a tattoo on her shoulder that says “destroy what destroys you.” On Friday, April 26, in front of a room full of classmates and strangers, she shared the harrowing story behind the ink.
“For a whole year,” she said, “I let a boy control me. He wouldn’t let me cut my hair, wear certain clothes, hang out with certain friends, talk to other boys. And I couldn’t even go to my junior homecoming.”
About eight months into the relationship, the abuse turned physical. She came home with bruises on her arms that she had to hide from her parents. At 17, she broke up with him and suffered bouts of depression. By 18, she felt she was worthless – “a true waste of human space.”
But then she came to Butler, and decided to tell her story—to allow herself to be vulnerable.
“I was tired of letting a stupid boy from high school control the way I thought about myself,” she said. “I no longer felt the burden of hiding the biggest and most impactful part of my life. Not only did I grow in that moment, but those who chose to listen grew as well.”
Smith was telling the story again in the Shelton Auditorium as part of Be Me BU: Unscripted, a TED Talk-like program put on by College of Education Professor Catherine Pangan’s Perspectives in Leadership class.
The goal of the class is to teach leadership theories, styles, and skills, and to learn how leadership styles are applied and then practiced.
Telling the story is still “very raw,” Smith said afterward, “but for every time I tell my story, I feel like I get a little bit of myself back. So anytime I can tell my story, I look forward to the opportunity.”
Junior Entrepreneurship major Emily Fleming, who served as emcee, said students in the class suggested potential speakers for the event, and the class selected the participants. Speakers were selected because they have overcome adversity and inspired the Butler community.
“We wanted people in the Butler community to be able to share their stories unscripted,” Fleming says. “We’re very proud of what we put together.”
Seven students—some from the class, some not—a faculty member, and a staff member, shared stories of life-changing moments and challenges they overcame.
The topics ranged from dealing with obsessive-compulsive disorder, to racial discrimination, to living with DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status in an uncertain time. Assistant Communications Sciences and Disorders Professor Tonya Bergeson-Dana talked about finding out that she was pregnant one day, then losing her husband, IndyCar driver Paul Dana, the next. Beloved C-Club employee “Miss” Denise Kimbrough talked about finding her home at Butler and providing a supportive environment for others.
Haley Sumner, a senior Communication Sciences and Disorders and Spanish double major, shared her story about being born three months prematurely, and how her grandparents took her in when her parents were unable to care for her. Grace Bowling, a senior Strategic Communications major, told of losing her mother to brain cancer, and how important it is to “embrace the changes that life throws at you.”
Then there was Lindsey Schuler.
A sophomore Health Sciences major from Fishers, she explained that life can change in the blink of an eye. Schuler was severely injured in a tumbling accident in which she fell 5 feet, face first, to the ground. She couldn’t move.
Schuler went through two surgeries and three weeks in the intensive care unit before heading to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. After months of therapy, she was able to rejoin her high school class and walk at graduation.
But there was more rehab to do, and she went back to Chicago to gain strength, endurance, and independent skills. She had to relearn how to climb stairs, use a pencil, tie a shoe, and drive. After five months there, and two more months in another neurological rehabilitation facility in Atlanta, she was able to come to Butler.
“I was terrified to enter a whole new community of people who had not known me prior to my injury,” she said. “I was so nervous that I’d be judged by my differences. But instead, this community has embraced me and welcomed me with open arms. If it had not been for my injury, I never would have come to Butler, I never would have found my passion for helping others, and most importantly, I never would have truly appreciated all I have been given.”