Acclaimed youth speaker captivates CHS audience

Motivational speaker Mike Smith challenged CHS students to 'be extraordinary.' (Ed McDonough photo)

Motivational speaker Mike Smith challenged CHS students to ‘be extraordinary.’ (Ed McDonough photo)

Acclaimed youth speaker captivates CHS audience

Popular youth motivational speaker and self proclaimed “professional teenager” Mike Smith brought his message of positive thinking, passionate giving, and extraordinary living to a packed Canton High School gymnasium last Wednesday, December 14.

In a fast-paced, hour-long presentation in front of the entire faculty and student body, Smith shared his personal transformation from “ordinary” teenager to “extraordinary” do-gooder and challenged those in the audience to not just talk about making a difference in their community and the world at large, but rather to actually go out and do it.

“It was a message of giving and empathy,” noted CHS Athletic Director Danny Erickson, who had seen Smith speak at another venue and helped to bring him to Canton. “He had CHS thinking and talking about how we can build on our school culture and work to recognize the value in each of us. It was awesome.”

Hailing from the small town of Imperial, Nebraska, Smith turned a personal epiphany he had when he was a high school senior — that he is the only one who can control his own legacy — into a lifelong commitment to act on his passions and live out his dreams.

He has since founded two nonprofits: The Bay, a skatepark/youth outreach center in Lincoln, Nebraska, and Skate for Change, a youth movement with chapters across the country that empowers skateboarders to give back to the homeless in their communities. He has also partnered with Jostens to develop The Harbor, a digital video series designed for the classroom that tackles a variety of topics relevant to teens — from addiction, bullying and bias to school spirit, community service, and digital citizenship.

The Harbor, according to its website, offers a school year’s worth of episodes with “rich, raw and engaging content” featuring Smith and several guests, along with downloadable critical thinking guides to facilitate classroom discussions.

In a post recapping Smith’s visit on his Athletics Blog, Erickson said CHS will be utilizing Smith’s Harbor curriculum in the coming months and will also stay in touch with Smith through FaceTime and other communication media.

Erickson was also pleased to report that nearly 200 students purchased a beanie through Beanies4Life, a California-based nonprofit that donates a polar fleece-lined beanie to homeless shelters for every beanie sold. Smith is the face of the initiative, which has helped thousands of homeless people around the country battle the winter elements and survive life-threatening weather conditions.

Erickson said Smith’s presentation “captivated” and “challenged” the CHS audience, and his hope is that all students heard the messages about “being humble, recognizing those around you, waking up at 6 a.m. to work to be your best, and doing good — not just wishing it or talking about it, but doing it.”

Smith’s simple yet powerful message and down-to-earth style certainly seemed to resonate with the students, and many commented afterward that he was one of the best speakers they had ever heard.

“He was so relatable and he knew how to talk to kids,” said junior Grace Lehane. “He gets it. I think that everyone had a takeaway after he spoke, especially his motto: ‘Helping people happens when no one else is watching.’”

“Mike Smith is the kind of guy that can walk into a room of high schoolers with kids from every different social circle and somehow find a way to personally connect with them and get through to each and every one of them,” added junior Nikki Gefteas. “He lives as an inspiration and a role model to teens all around the country.”

Senior Jackson Maffeo also described Smith as “relatable” and said he was able to capture the attention of everyone in the school. “His message was inspiring and truly made a difference for me personally,” Maffeo said.

Junior Austin Maffie echoed his classmates’ sentiments and described Smith as “truly one of a kind.”

“He was able to capture and inspire the crowd of high schoolers for over an hour as he shared his journey in life,” Maffie said. “He taught so many lessons and every word he said was uplifting, specifically his tattoo: ‘Speak for the silent, stand for the broken.’”

For more information about Smith and his various initiatives, go to For details about The Harbor and to view a sample episode, visit To support Beanies4Life and for more information about the one-to-one initiative by Yea.Nice, go to

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