Teen leader overcomes loss as a voice for peace

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — When tragedies strike in our lives some people respond in empowering ways and turn their heartbreak into a triumph.  So it is with the FOX 4 Young Achiever of the Week – a high school student determined to foster peace and understanding even as she delights audiences on the stage.

She can’t remember ever not wanting to sing – ever not loving it.  And Rose Smithson has put a lot of time and effort into improving her natural gift to make her voice a glorious instrument so she can experience the joy of being a member of the Chamber Choir at Shawnee Mission South High School, the school’s top vocal music group.

“Everyone works hard to get into our Chamber Choir,” said Rose, this week’s FOX 4 Young Achiever.  “So it’s kind of like you’re among a bunch of hard-working people that are all working for the same purpose, is to make great music.”

Rose’s performing doesn’t end with Chamber Choir.  Since she was a freshman Rose has been a headliner of the ambitious musicals that South’s theater program has put on.

“First I was nervous,” said Rose. “The first time I did a musical, I didn’t want to do it.”

Rose’s butterflies vanished with success in her first musical for South, Godspell, a rare opportunity for a freshman.  And she kept getting big leading roles including starring as Mary Poppins last year.

“It’s made me become more open,” said Rose of the experience being on stage. “I’m more outgoing than I used to be.  It makes you feel like you can do anything if you’re out there.”

Rose uses that lovely voice and her other impressive performing talents to express herself artistically to entertain and bring joy to audiences.  But she also raises that strong voice in other powerful ways.  Rose got South High to let her create a new student organization at school this year, a chapter of People to People International.

“I hope it encourages people to talk globally, to think outside themselves,” said Rose. The chapter has started small but Rose is committed to getting it firmly established for future growth.

“Anything that can promote harmony among all cultures is what I’m going for,” said Rose. “I’m going for peace.  I’m just going for something that can bring peace to the world.”  Rose was moved to action by the emotionally devastating murder of her beloved godmother, Terri LaManno, in the prejudice-driven Jewish center shootings in Overland Park in April 2014.

“It really inspired me to get active,” said Rose.  “I was like, this is the moment.  I can’t respond to this with shutting down and hating the world.”

The murder of her godmother was part of a series of personal losses and challenges Rose endured that included her father’s death when she was six, the deaths of her grandparents and a serious head injury that plagued her all of last year.

“She’s tough as nails,” said South High counselor Kelly Lillis.

Lillis worked with Rose to help her rise above the tragedies and the injury as she kept her grades sky-high and her spirits and community service strong.  Lillis says Rose’s resilience is extraordinary.

“And she just jumps right back in even if she can only do a little each day, she jumps in and does it,” said Lillis.  “And she does everything to the best of her ability, which is amazing.  She is going to be unstoppable.”

“I feel strong in that I have overcome a lot,” said  Rose. “And I’ve worked hard but I don’t think that makes me stronger than anyone else.  I had no choice to unless I wanted to be sad the rest of my life.  That’s not a life.”  A voice for peace.

Rose participated in People to People International’s Global Youth Forum in Kansas City last fall and has done 125 hours of volunteer work for the organization.  That educated and motivated her to start the student chapter at Shawnee Mission South High, one of very few high school chapters in the nation.    Dwight Eisenhower established People to People International in 1956 when he was president.  You can get more information on the organization here https://www.ptpi.org/.



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