Elizabeth Smart remembered sitting on an overturned bucket, thinking how long of a time 30 years would be.
She figured 30 years would be long enough to outlive her kidnapper and maybe one day return to her family.
“I didn’t ever want to forget who I was,” Smart said. “I didn’t ever want to forget my name, or where I came from or my family.”
Those thoughts ran through her mind on the morning of June 6, 2002, the day she should have been attending her junior high graduation.
Smart, who described her 14-year-old self as the “ultimate definition of a wallflower,” had been looking forward to going on vacation in Beaver, Utah, with her best friend after graduation.
Instead, she was held in captivity for nine months. Eleven years and two days after her release on March 12, 2003, she shared her story with a large crowd at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Jesse Auditorium. The Delta Gamma Foundation Lectureship in Values and Ethics hosted the presentation, which was free with a ticket for students and $10 for the public.
Smart’s lecture focused on her survival and themes of family and love. She also spoke of moving on after she was released from the custody of her kidnapper, Brian David Mitchell.
Smart shared some advice her mother had given her upon returning home.
“The best punishment you could ever give (Mitchell) is to be happy,” Smart recalled her mother saying to her. “Holding onto the past and reliving everything you went through, that’s only allowing him to hold onto you and steal more of your life away from you. He does not deserve another second of your life.”
Senior Danny Poon said he was not familiar with Smart’s story prior to the lecture, but he found her positive outlook inspiring.
“I really loved the way that she looks at things, especially what her mom said — and from what I can tell, it seems like she’s living that out — to be able to not let that take away from her life any more than it already had,” Poon said. “You can apply that to any social injustice. It was really inspiring to know that she’s going into a job that’s fighting this, rather than letting it haunt her.”
Le Caldwell, of Hartsburg, said she was happy to see so many students at the event. Caldwell said she had followed the story in national news back in 2002 and 2003, and she attended the event because she was interested in hearing Smart’s personal account.
“I thought it was excellent; she’s an amazing young lady,” Caldwell said. “I think the way she came back after all of that and fit into her life again and is married; I just think it’s amazing she seems so well-adjusted.”
Caldwell said she was surprised to hear Smart had not received any professional counseling following her release.
Instead, Smart said she relied on her family, which, with more than 50 cousins, she said, is quite large. It was this thinking about her family that gave her the initial motivation to do whatever she’d have to do to return home.
“I realized (on that first day) that my family would always love me, that that would never change,” Smart said. “As soon as I made that realization, I knew I had something that could never be taken from me, never be changed just because these two people said so or because they took me away. I would always have my family. Because of that, I would do whatever it took … even if that meant waiting 30 years to outlive these two people, I would do it. And somehow, I would make it back home.”
Smart’s presentation was preceded by a book signing of her memoir “My Story” at 3 p.m. in The Mizzou Store.