Jewish Family and Children’s Services “Next Chapter”, San Francisco, CA – December 9, 2018

by George J Elbaum

Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS) is a San Francisco Bay Area social services organization whose mission statement is “Serving individuals and families of all faiths and backgrounds, guided by the Jewish value of caring for those in our community most in need.” As such, JFCS carries a special responsibility within the Jewish community for reaching out to children, the aged, those with special needs, and for the resettlement and acculturation of refugees and immigrants.

Among its many services, the JFCS provides the facilities and educational programs on the Holocaust for visiting teachers, adults, and student groups.  My presentation today was to two dozen students from different high schools and backgrounds, plus their parents, thus launching the Next Chapter program.  By participating in the Next Chapter, students learn about the Holocaust through survivor testimony and hearing from several different speakers over the course of the program. By learning to recognize the value in others’ stories and experiences, students learn to appreciate their own story and identity, as well as gain moral courage and a sense of social responsibility.

My talk was arranged by Nikki Bambauer, JFCS Holocaust Center’s Program Coordinator, while our Sunday afternoon event was managed by Yedida Kanfer, Manager of Library, Archives and Education Services, with support from Harley Kalter, Pell University Fellow, who ably handled my iPhone to photograph the event for this website.

with students

with whole audience



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UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, Berkeley, CA – November 15, 2018

by George J Elbaum

UC Berkeley Haas School of Business offers an undergraduate level course entitled Leadership, whose purpose is for the students to develop not only their understanding the theory but also the practice of leadership in various organizational settings.  My talk to students enrolled in this Leadership course was organized by one of the students, Marika Vigo, who contacted the Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS) of San Francisco with the following explanation and request for a speaker:

“The class emphasizes not just learning leadership but also practicing leadership (in order to improve the group).  My small group in the course thought it would be impactful to have a Holocaust survivor come speak so we can better understand the importance of empathy and leadership in polarizing times.  In light of the Pittsburgh massacre, we want to hear a Holocaust survivor’s testimony to ensure we can be leaders who do not let history repeat itself.”

After the talk and an extensive Q & A, a smaller group of students approached me with additional and varied questions, ranging from my experience as a rocket engineer to addressing public intolerance in the current political climate.  I was also interviewed for the UC Berkeley student newspaper, The Daily Californian, and the resulting article entitled “Empowering and emotional”: Holocaust survivor speaks about anti-Semitism, need for tolerance ( is perhaps the best-written summary of my talk because it touches on each of its important points.

When I was contacted by Nikki Bambauer, Program Coordinator of JFCS’s Holocaust Center, I eagerly agreed to do it and looked forward to many serious, in depth questions from this audience.  I was not disappointed.  Aiding Marika Vigo in organizing this event were Kendall Swenson, Huy Cuong Huynh, Tatum Holdaway, Raffi Terteryan, and Prince Obah. Thank you all.

Letter from Student

Several days after my talk at UC Berkeley I received an email from a student who attended it.  The 1st and 3rd paragraphs (quoted below) made me feel both gratified and humble that I was making a difference, but the 2nd paragraph made me sad that my mother, who died 15 years ago, could not read or hear these words which would have pleased her very much.

  • I don’t have the words to adequately express how honored and grateful I am to have had the chance to hear your story, but what I can tell you is that your words have given me hope for a better, kinder world. I have begun to share your message with my friends and family members, and I will continue to do so as long as I am able.
  • As I am sure many students have told you, your mother’s ingenuity and bravery are unparalleled to anyone else’s in my life. While it very well may have been luck, as you say, that ultimately guided your path, it is evident that your mother was always watching over you. She is a true symbol of courage.
  • Thank you for your willingness to speak to youth across the country. The future is ours, and we will do our best to make it a place that your generation would be proud to live in.

(More photos are coming…. I hope!)


starting the talk

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Monte Vista High School, Danville, CA – October 30, 2018

by George J Elbaum

Monte Vista High School (MVHigh) is a 9-12 public school with a student body of almost 2500 students which is 61% Caucasian, 21% Asian, 9% Hispanic, and 9% for all others.  The school has a strong focus on academic excellence, which resulted in significantly increasing SAT scores for the last 3 years consecutively, and it’s therefore a 4-time California Distinguished School and a National Blue Ribbon School.   MVHigh even has College Connect, which allows students to enroll in a shortened high school schedule to attend college courses in their 11th and 12th grades and complete up to 30 units aligned with UC and CSU requirements.  Thus 96% of graduating students attend either a 4-year college or a 2-year college.  Athletics are not short-changed by academics, with MVHigh teams winning league and even state championships in 2016-2017 in half-dozen sports.

MVHigh is also responsive to student initiatives, as I witnessed regarding my talk.  One of its students, Alexander (Sasha) Shvakel, attended a talk I gave last year at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, and afterwards he contacted me and asked if I would be willing to do it at his school in Danville.  I agreed, and he took it upon himself to bring me to MVHigh.  Relying on his energy and diplomacy, he obviously succeeded… TWICE: first in March and now with his history teacher Nick Jones.

Nick is also the school’s basketball coach, and a photo in his classroom shows his 2014 team which won the California Division 1 State Championship.  Pointing to the photo, Nick told me that the tall player in the back row is Spencer Rust, MVP of the East Bay Athletic League that year, and who just graduated from MIT, my alma mater!  Nick’s students were well prepared for my talk, which resulted in a very active Q & A session with historical questions about the Holocaust as well as about societal situations and bigotry in the current political climate.  Some of their questions were asked for the very 1st or 2nd time in the 200 talks I’ve given in the past 8 years.

My genuine thanks to both Nick Jones and Alexander Shvakel, and also to Tracy Johnson, MVHigh staff, for her timely “guidance” of a traffic-worn traveler.  Attending my talk was also teacher Alison Perusso, who organized my talk at MVHigh last March.

Letters from Students

A week+ after my talk at Monte Vista I received a large envelope containing Thank You letters from the students.  Last evening after dinner, as has been our custom, my wife Mimi and I read these letters together, with Mimi reading each letter aloud while I listened and absorbed it mentally and emotionally, and we would jointly choose the statements that particularly resonate with us and excerpt these – see below.

  • I imagine it is difficult to talk about it even now, over 70 years later, but it means a lot to me that you did. Your story helped put into context not only the Holocaust, but also other people who, like you, are going through or have gone through tough times in their lives.  From war veterans to sexual assault survivors, your story helped me understand how difficult going through something like that can be.
  • It is important for people to understand not only the cost of war, but also the cost of hatred and senseless violence, as well as the sheer horrors of the Nazi regime, especially for those who are anti-Semitic, pro-Nazi, or favor any group that preaches hatred towards others.
  • I hope that you will continue giving your presentation and spreading your story, so that more and more people are able to better understand what it was like to live through the war, and better appreciate what everyone went through.
  • Your generation is the last that witnessed what happened, and without your knowledge we lose a huge part of history.
  • After hearing your story and learning how lucky you were, I spent the rest of the day thinking about how fortunate I am to have heard it. I hope your story will have the same effect on other students as it had on me.
  • Your stories were deep and impactful, and they inspired me. I aspire to have a fraction of the strength your mother showed in my day to day life.
  • I believe it is necessary and good to hear how the Holocaust affected people so that it is not forgotten. What you learned from it is how hate leads to evil and that we should practice kindness – it is very important.
  • Reading textbooks gives one a general idea of the Holocaust, but your presentation brings it down to a personal scale better than any textbook or article can.
  • It is extremely important that every generation remembers these atrocities in order to never again to commit them, especially in this time when hate crimes are sadly still rampart.
  • I could never imagine the fear that you and your family must have felt on a day to day basis. You did such a fantastic job telling your story.  I will never forget this experience.
  • It is a truly once in a lifetime experience to learn about something that seemed so long ago, from someone who lived through it. I feel as if I learned more from your story than I have from my years at this school.
  • I appreciate you taking the time to educate new generations, like mine, on what it was like to live in Poland during the second World War.

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Katherine Delmar Burke School, San Francisco, CA – October 26, 2018

by George J Elbaum

In 1908 Katherine Delmar Burke founded her school to fill an obvious need: young women who wanted to be educated enough to attend college faced often-insurmountable barriers. More than 100 years later, her school (Burke’s) still has the same mission: “to educate, encourage and empower girls. The school combines academic excellence with an appreciation for childhood so that students thrive as learners, develop a strong sense of self, contribute to community, and fulfill their potential, now and throughout life.”  Burke’s now has approximately 400 students (K-8) and a unique 3.5-acre campus in a residential district of San Francisco with mostly open space: a large grass athletic field, a sports court and two multipurpose courtyards with play structures. Its facilities include a large library, innovation labs, science labs, several art, music and drama studios, and a gymnasium/ auditorium. The faculty-to-students ratio is 1:7, and the average tenure of faculty at Burke’s is 10 years.

Burke’s prides itself in having its students graduate with a strong academic foundation and also a love of learning — not just for the sake of grades. This reflects Burke’s long-standing commitment to preserving the spirit of exploration while students master traditional skills and concepts. Upper School students have a comprehensive program that includes core academic subjects plus art, music, drama, and physical education, while 7th and 8th graders also have classes in public speaking and service learning plus many electives. The teaching of computer skills is integrated into the curriculum.

This was my third talk at Burke’s in 3 years, and it was attended by Burke’s 8th grade students. It was organized by teacher Debbie Yoon, who has enhanced her teaching unit on the Holocaust and Japanese Internment camps by creating a reader which, in addition to Anne Frank’s diary, includes different perspectives from the voices of other youth during times of oppression. Her students thus read not just the critical parts of Anne Frank’s diary, but also about various young upstanders during the Holocaust, some poetry, and other teenagers’ diaries from that time period. The students’ final project will be to write a personal essay about a moment in time when they stood up for what they believed in. This is a way for them to process the essential question for the year: “What does it mean to be human during times of injustice and hardship, and what can I do about it?” The students were very enthusiastic, as in previous years, and during the post-talk Q & A they asked many thoughtful questions, some that I’d not been asked until now, requiring me to stop and think deeply before answering. This was exactly the kind of Q & A that makes it my favorite part of the talks.

My talk was arranged by Brian Fong of Facing History and Ourselves (who also took all photos) and was also attended by Susan Deemer, Upper School Makery Facilitator, and Erica Obando, Communications and Advancement Associate.

Letters from Students

A week after visiting Burke’s I received a large envelope with 40+ letters from the 8th grade students and one from their teacher.  As has become our habit by now, after dinner my wife Mimi read each letter aloud as I listened and absorbed it mentally and emotionally. We were touched by the students’ sensitivity, insight and heartfelt honesty, and we felt very gratified by their responses to my story.  Those statements in the letters that resonated the most with us are excerpted below.  In addition, several of the letters also included a decoration or a drawing, and I’ve added two of these to the photo gallery.

  • After you left, my friends and I talked about how lucky we are to never have experienced genocide or bias based on violence. San Francisco is a safe, liberal city, but America as a whole is becoming more and more polarized.
  • Just this past weekend there was a terrible shooting at a Synagogue. The hate and ignorance from which the Holocaust was born is not yet dead.
  • You are helping America by teaching young people tolerance and love rather than fear and hate.
  • Since you’ve come to Burke’s I’ve noticed that I value life more and I try to do things that I hadn’t thought of doing before. So thank you, thank you for making an impact on my life.
  • I was horrified to hear about the Synagogue shooting this past weekend.  It shocked me to see anti-Semitism happening to that extent in this world today.
  • It pains me to think that some people are now scared to practice their own religion.
  • I hope you never feel silenced. You voice and your story are powerful.  Use them for good during this time of hate.
  • Your story inspires me to be the good in our world, standing up for what I believe in. I will always remember to “be for things, not against them.”
  • You made me acknowledge the sadness of the past, but you also made me laugh and smile, from your embarrassment stories and your bright, kind smile.
  • I hope you enjoyed speaking to us just as much as I enjoyed listening to you!
  • I love the advice you gave us: You have the choice in your life to stand up for what you believe in or stand back and watch hate spread. You have the choice of to choose love over hate.
  • Thank you again and again, and I loved my hug at the end. I hope that everyone was smiling in the photo!
  • I found it truly inspirational how you always try hard to look for the good in things and simply forget the bad. You have inspired me to try that method during my own life.
  • I hope you continue to inspire others with your story, for it has already made a huge impact on my life.
  • After everything that you lost and went through, you kept walking forward.
  • You are working to inspire students to be the change they wish to see in the world, which I greatly thank you for.
  • P.S. – I have a ginormous sweet tooth as well! 😊
  • I think my class and I didn’t fully understand the magnitude of the Holocaust, but now it is a little bit easier to grasp.
  • I love your mother’s strong and brave character. (My mother would be very happy to read this, were she still alive.  Thank you.)
  • Though I’ve read about the stories of Holocaust survivors in the past, I didn’t realize how impactful hearing someone speak in person would be until you began speaking of your experience. Your speech helped make this nebulous cloud of statistics and words on a page into a real, grounded event.
  • It is easy to look past numbers, but the way you connected Holocaust statistics to San Francisco’s population helped me understand how big the impact actually was.
  • As you spoke about the people and families who risked their lives to hide you and save you, I realized that it is true: we all have a choice to help others (being an Upstander), or to just watch (being a Bystander).
  • I will always remember what you said about remembering only the positive things that happened in your life, and I have started sing this method in my own life.
  • I want you to know that your story has touched me so deeply and I will carry it with me as I write my essay about speaking up for what you believe in.
  • Your story has inspired me greatly and I have learned how lucky I am because of it, and how it is always important to defend your rights. You have deeply moved me.
  • Thank you sincerely for the work you’ve done and will continue to do.  Thank you for inspiring thousands of kids across the nation and beyond.
  • From the teacher: The students are our futures. Thank you again for helping shape them.

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University of San Francisco at JFCS, San Francisco, CA – October 25, 2018

by George J Elbaum

Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS) is a San Francisco Bay Area social services organization whose mission statement is “Serving individuals and families of all faiths and backgrounds, guided by the Jewish value of caring for those in our community most in need.” As such, JFCS carries a special responsibility within the Jewish community for reaching out to children, the aged, those with special needs, and for the resettlement and acculturation of refugees and immigrants.

Among its many services, the JFCS provides the facilities and arranges presentations on the Holocaust for visiting student groups.  My presentation today was to 17 students from the University of San Francisco taking a course entitled Jews, Judaism, and Jewish Identities, taught by Professor Aaron J. Hahn Tapper, who is the Director of the Swig Program in Jewish Studies and Social Justice at University of San Francisco.

My talk was arranged by Nikki Bambauer, JFCS Holocaust Center’s Program Coordinator, who also ably handled my iPhone to photograph the event.  Thank you, Nikki 😊!

A couple of weeks after the talk I received a page of USF stationery from Professor Tapper with his “Thank you” note plus those from the dozen+ students attending my talk, each note one or two sentence long.  Reading these notes, I found in most of them a sentence or two that really appealed to me, so I excerpted these and added them to my post (below).

  • I really appreciated how you vulnerably expressed your feelings. I will never forget your story.
  • I cannot ever begin to imagine the trials you have had to go through to become the man you are today.
  • I really appreciate you feeling vulnerable enough to share.
  • Please never stop telling your story, and thank you so much for educating us.
  • You inspire me so much.
  • Your speech was incredibly powerful and I appreciate how open you wee with us.
  • Your emotion is so raw after so many years, and to show the emotion takes a lot of strength.

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Central Catholic High School, Lawrence, MA – October 4, 2018 PM

by George J Elbaum

Founded by the Marist Brothers in 1935, Central Catholic High School enrolls approximately 1,280 students from diverse backgrounds “to form a caring community of faith, learning, and service.” The school prepares its students for college which almost all of them enter, and simultaneously “it teaches and promotes social justice and compassion to make the world a better place.”  To this purpose the school offers a one-semester elective course “Facing History & Ourselves: The Holocaust & Human Behavior” in its Religious Studies Department.  As taught by teachers Anne Martino and Tim Hart, the students explore the history, causes, and aftermath of the Holocaust and reflect on racism, social justice, the importance of global awareness and their own potential for making a difference.

Anne Martino’s and Tim Hart’s classes of 44 seniors (total) attended my presentation, which was arranged by Judi Bohn of Facing History and Ourselves.  Also in attendance were social studies teacher John Sears, Guidance Counselor Brother John Kachinsky, and Assistant Principal/Academic Dean Jeanne Burns. This was my 3rd time speaking at Central Catholic, and just as during the previous 2 times, the overall atmosphere was very welcoming and the students well prepared and very enthusiastic.  (In fact, one of Tim Hart’s students who attended a previous talk chose my talk for an art project, and the resulting photo-collage is hanging on my office wall.)  I truly look forward to return visits to Central Catholic.

Letters from Students and Teachers

Several weeks after my talk at Central Catholic High School I received a large envelope with letters from its students and teachers.  As has been our custom for some years, my wife Mimi and I read the letters together, with Mimi reading aloud while I listened and absorbed it mentally and emotionally, and we jointly chose statements from the letters that particularly resonated with us, and we excerpted these for this post.  The large number of excerpts and the sensitivity shown in their content reflect the students’ preparation and the class discussion that followed, and thus the quality of teaching.

  • From your and your mother’s courageous escape from the Nazis to your admittance into MIT, the obstacles you have overcome in your life have given me a hopeful reminder that no matter how difficult life may get, we can overcome anything if we put our minds to it.
  • You have inspired me to show more love and less hate, because nothing good can ever come from hate.
  • You have touched my life and I am sure that you have touched many others as well.
  • Your story really got to me and made me realize how grateful I am for my life and especially how grateful I am for my mother.
  • You have changed my outlook on life and helped me to realize that with hard work anything is possible. Thank you so much!!!
  • I hope, as you do, that my generation learns from the past and from stories such as yours to ensure that nothing like the Holocaust could ever happen again. I can assure you that I will try my best to always live by the Golden Rule and respect all people.
  • Your story about being given the sugar cube really impacted me. Although it’s a small piece of your life, it taught me a large lesson.  It taught me that some of the smallest gifts (or may be insignificant at the time) have some of the largest impacts.
  • Your legacy will always live on with me.
  • My favorite part was listening to you talk about your wife. Even though that was perhaps not the focus, it’s comforting to know how much love still exists out there.  Thank you again for speaking.
  • I am so glad there are people like you on this Earth. You taught me so much about the important things in life.
  • I appreciate your courage immensely. Your morals even after what you have been through are so inspiring.  Thank you so much, never change.
  • Your story inspired me greatly, and now I will always remember to keep pushing forward and fighting for what I want.
  • Seeing you stand up in front of fifty high school students inspired me on numerous levels. After your talk I sat in silence as I recollected the story you had just presented.  You changed my – and fifty other people’s – lives Thursday afternoon.
  • When you came to my school and shared your personal experience the Holocaust became more than just a textbook lesson from a dark time in history.
  • Your story helps to express the importance of moving forward and not looking back into the past. I left after your talk more focused than ever on my present time and what I can do now.  I also left as a more accepting person overall.  Please keep sharing your story!
  • Not only did your story captivate me and teach me, but it also motivated me. Your message of the Golden Rule resonated heavily with me and motivates me to remain a teacher to those who are ignorant, ignorant of respect and kindness.
  • One point you stated that you’ve had a good life made me realize that although life may have its hardships, you can get through them by being positive. You are such a positive and loving person despite what you have gone through.
  • Hearing you speak really guides me to another level deeper, to the history and life’s meaning. I felt lucky to be able to hear your story and thoughts.  Thank you for doing this and wish our world will be in peace.
  • At first I was kind of iffy about going to hear you speak – how could this guy know anything about the Holocaust if he was only 4 years old when it happened?! But I found your story fascinating and amazing.  It was truly an honor hearing you speak and is something I will remember for the rest of my life.
  • Your talk opened my eyes to a world that no one should ever have to go through.
  • I think you were destined to stay alive so you could inspire others and remind them just how precious each moment of life is. I am very thankful that you eventually decided to share your journey with people.
  • Before hearing your story the Holocaust was simply a devastating event in history that we all read about in our textbooks.
  • I hope that you never stop talking about your experiences because that might be the reason why something like the Holocaust never happens again.
  • Your willingness to be vulnerable and share such an integral part of your life caused many of us to consider the impact of our words on society. I am amazed by your strength, resilience, and humility.
  • I hope you continue to do these speeches and educate our generation so that we can pass these stories onto the next generation.
  • There is just something so unique, so real and authentic about you speaking in person.
  • I looked up your book Neither Yesterdays Nor Tomorrows because I was extremely impressed by the way you are able to leave the past in the past and the future in the future.
  • Living in the moment has become somewhat uncommon in today’s world, as many focus on the mistakes of the past while being nervous of the future. I will certainly try to live more for “today” rather than live in what could have happened or what will happen.
  • The passion with which you speak can be felt by all who listen to any of your stories.
  • I experienced your story first hand and can now pass it on to others with much more importance than a history book will ever have.
  • You never let the horrific experience of your childhood hinder you or your dreams.
  • I am so glad that I had this life-changing experience. I cannot thank you enough!
  • Hearing you speak is always inspiring. You remind me how strong we can be.  You give a sense of hope to people.
  • You also remind me how important it is to teach about the Holocaust. I find it particularly relevant in the current political and cultural climate.
  • The responsibility to share your story must weigh heavily on you at times, but I’m grateful that you have the strength and courage to do so.
  • I am in awe of your mother’s sacrifices, just as I pray that no other mother will have to do the same for her children.



Snowden International School, Boston, MA – October 4, 2018 AM

by George J Elbaum

Snowden International School is a unique, open-enrollment public high school in Boston’s historic Copley Square.  With slightly under 500 students, it is a multicultural, multilingual college preparatory high school with a rigorous academic curriculum plus an international studies and world language focus.  As a part of the international-themed curriculum, students are required to take 4 years of a foreign language, and the school has the goal of having 25% of each student class participate in exchange-immersion programs to foreign countries, which in past years have included China, Japan, Spain, France, Canada, Jamaica, Ireland, England and Rwanda.  For the 2018-2019 school year students will be travelling to France, Germany, Poland and Cuba.   Snowden International thus offers its students an accelerated college preparatory curriculum, and the International Baccalaureate Diploma and Certificate program which is quite unique for an urban public high school.

On the local level, Snowden International conducts special projects such as visits to many of world class museums that Boston offers, collaboration with the Boston Public Library, an “I Dream” theater project with Emerson College, the August Wilson Monologue Competition in New York, and community service hours required of its students.

On a personal level, I was very impressed with the open friendliness of the many students who approached me and introduced themselves when I first entered the room, and the feeling remained throughout my visit.  The event was organized by Paula Bowles, Snowden’s History and Social Studies teacher, and Laurie DeMarco, Visual Arts & Theater teacher.  My talk was also attended by teachers Kiki McCarthy, Heidi Noce, Seth Peterson and Nancy Allen.   Snowden’s Headmaster, Eugene Roundtree (who presented me with a Snowden 2022 t-shirt) also attended.  The visit was arranged by Judi Bohn of Facing History and Ourselves.

Letters from Students

Several weeks after my talk at Snowden International School I received a large envelope with Thank You notes from the students attending my talk.  As has been our custom for some years, my wife Mimi and I read each of the notes, with Mimi reading aloud while I listened and absorbed it mentally and emotionally.  We jointly chose statements from the notes that particularly resonated with us, and we excerpted these statements and added them to this web post.  Also included was a hand-made “THANK You” note with very cute “Sending hug    loading…” drawing on the reverse side.  It gave both Mimi and me a great big 🙂 and I’ve added it to the photos below.

  • The memories you could recall from your childhood are marked by innocence but still charged with meaning.
  • Thank you for sharing with us that each of the six million lives brutally ended in the Holocaust was also filled with stories.
  • After listening to your words, I decided to become a person like you. Even if I have past memories that I don’t want to share out, I’m going to boldly share them to make it never happen again.
  • I know that the world changes because of a person like you.
  • Every time you shared your words, there was a deep impression inside my heart. Thank you.
  • Keep speaking & sharing your experience with the world.
  • I enjoyed hearing about your experience & getting to hug/see you. Thank you.
  • After your speech I will always remember to speak up about things when something is going on and to not be afraid to say something.
  • You’ve taught me a lot, to be strong and reach as far as I can to my dream goal.
  • Thank you for being so brave, sharing your past, and for being an amazing and optimistic person. Considering what you went through, you’ve really inspired me.
  • I really appreciated your wise words the other day. This experience will forever stick with me.
  • I, too, am a story teller, and your dedication to sharing your message with others is really important to me. I’ve often wanted to share my own ideas and experiences with others, and your talk reminded me of how important that is.
  • Please don’t stop giving these talks.

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