Guest Column:
Integrity

by Mahala Christensen, West Valley High School PACE Award Honoree

What a strange feeling, to be at odds with yourself over who you are and what kinds of decisions you should make…”

Everyone grows up with a memory or two that shapes who they are. Those moments are pivotal points in every person’s life because they provide a basis for the values of that individual and the foundation for their sense of integrity. But what happens if that foundation is shaken or unstable? Is integrity something that can be relearned or reestablished once it is lost? Some may say, no, it’s something you’re born with and it can’t be taught. While I don’t disagree that there are elements of integrity that occur naturally in many people, I also confidently stand behind the assertion that integrity can be learned, nurtured and developed no matter the circumstance. I am so sure of this, because it happened to me, and it is something that I feel passionately about helping to restore in others.

My passion comes from my own experience. I was blessed to grow up in a loving home, with supportive parents, siblings and friends, combined with a strong faith that culminated in helping me develop my intrinsic set of positive values. There are many things that can be taken from a person but his or her sense of integrity isn’t one of them, or so I thought. My sophomore year in high school, I was involved in an accident while playing softball which caused a brain injury and ultimately resulted in severe amnesia. This amnesia stole my long-term memory, along with what felt like my entire childhood, and therefore all the values on which I had built the foundation of my integrity vanished.  I was left feeling lost and uncertain. It wasn’t only that I couldn’t remember people’s names or memories from my past, but I felt like I had lost my internal compass. I struggled to regain my sense of who I was and what I truly valued.

What a strange feeling, to be at odds with yourself over who you are and what kinds of decisions you should make. There were moments when I wasn’t sure if I would ever feel balanced as my whole self again. It was a long and difficult recovery through which I was aided by many medical professionals who helped me adapt and grow. With their support and the love and patience of my family and friends, I was able to formulate a new platform of values to stand on. If I hadn’t had their support, I am certain I would have struggled miserably to reestablish my value system. Through this, I came to realize that I wanted to use my experience to help others, particularly children, who are struggling to define and establish their value system due to physical or emotional trauma.

A person’s integrity is at the core of who they are, and everyone should have the opportunity to develop it and feel confident about it. This is why I think it is absolutely vital that a child be surrounded by a nurturing and supportive environment in the early years of life. If a child is deprived of the kindness and love that should be provided, or if they suffer in a difficult circumstance, it is all too easy for their values to become compromised and their integrity to be underdeveloped. Everyone, no matter their background, deserves the opportunity that I received: to regain balance for their values. Because of this, I am determined to become the support system that I was given.  I know how important a person’s integrity is to their self-confidence and to their identity. I want to help those who are struggling with this, to reset their compass. Although I may not be capable of redirecting anyone’s morals that they have developed throughout their lives, I hope to provide some sort of pivotal moment that could have a positive influence on them. By providing this support and relying on my own past experiences, I am hopeful that I will be able to accomplish my dream of helping children in need and become a catalyst of good in their lives. I want to help develop and nurture their sense of integrity because it is a vital element in all of our lives; it is the essence of who we are.

Mahala Christensen is a senior at West Valley High School, graduating in June with a 4.0 GPA as one of three class valedictorians, and she will be attending Brigham Young University in the fall.  A few of her many roles include: West Valley’s ASB activities coordinator, National Honor Society vice president, HOSA president, and conditioning captain on WV’s award-winning dance team. She is a member of West Valley’s leadership team which sponsors the PACE character traits of the month. Last month she was honored at the 7th Annual PACE Awards for being a good character role model.

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