Profile: Huron’s Aaron Garrett gives uplifting talk on optimism

Aaron Garrett and his sister, Ariel, were born to a mother who did not want them. They were taken to a foster home where punishment was so severe that it resulted in lifelong physical scars for Ariel. And, yet, there was hope.

Aaron, now 17, recently told the story of how he and his sister escaped the early-life horror, when they were rescued – he was 3 and Ariel was 2 – by Ann Arbor resident Harmony Mitchell. He gave a speech as part of the Ann Arbor Optimist Club Oratory Contest, and it was good enough to win second prize — $300 in scholarship money. Mitchell took custody of the children when they were toddlers, and the adoption became final in 2008 when they were 7 and 6, respectively.

It was a story that that could have been filled with pessimism, but thanks to perseverance and faith, it is now rife with optimism. Here are the opening few paragraphs of Aaron’s speech, given at the Pittsfield Township Learning Resource Center:

“Can a plant survive if it was uprooted?

What are the roots of my optimism? Such a tough question to ask a kid like myself. Have you ever marveled at the beauty of a sunflower? The way its rough stem stands tall and turns its vibrant yellow and delicate petals towards the sun?

If you have ever grown them you know that too much water can cause them to fail. But I wonder, have any of you ever tried to uproot a plant? Did it survive?

Before you moved it did you study the soil it was in and where you might have a more successful outcome? I am the sunflower, uprooted in the middle of the night, during a season a rain.

When I was 2 my world turned upside down. My sister and I were plucked from the only family we had ever known. Almost instantly we had to learn how to adapt to new situations and (unfortunately more trauma). Portions of our roots had been completely ripped away and our color began to dim. We were assessed over and over again by social workers, doctors and psychiatrist. All who wanted to know just how damaged we were. Would we ever be reunited with our birth family? No, the ground is too boggy and chances of survival are zero. Should we be separated? No, chances for regeneration of our roots were higher if less trauma occurred. So what now you ask? Adoption! Our chances of survival and vitality were much higher if we were planted in soil that was just right for our needs.”

The speech given by Aaron – a sophomore at Huron High School, touched many in the audience, including Susan Baskett, an Optimist Club member and one of the organizers of the Oratory Contest.

Susan Baskett, Abdul Kizito, Aaron Garrett, Tony Fata and William Hampton.

“Aaron’s speech was so heartfelt, you couldn’t helped but be moved by it,” said Baskett, a member of the Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education. “There were so many good speeches, and obviously, his was among the best. He took second place.”

Trauma, heartache and horror are tough topics to deal with, yet Aaron took them on in front of a crowd. He said he never had any second thoughts.

“When I heard about the contest, I knew I wanted to be a part of it, and the idea for my topic came right away,” he said. “The theme had to be ‘Roots of Optimism,” and I knew what the roots of my optimism were.

“They were, are and always will be my family.”

More excerpts:

“One day, in the last foster my sister and I would ever be in, a lady came and visited us. She saw that we were plants who had been uprooted from their soil and wanted to give us what we needed. She saw the (pain that we were in), how desperately we needed “water and soil” and told herself that she could give it to us. She had a sweet tone to her voice when we first met. I instantly felt an attachment to her. She was extremely nice and caring, along with loving and shared her happiness with us, and I hated when she had to leave at the end of our visits. It was then that I knew where my roots of optimism would lie.

But what are the roots of my optimism? This time I ask myself! The ones that were ripped from soggy land and forced in the sand. Is it hope for a sunny day after months of rain and shade? Or the beginning of spring after a long Michigan winter? With my past most people have already given up on me and they will have a front row seat to my success. They will see that my roots of optimism are extending from the love that I received from my new family. The drive and adrenaline that rises from those who have given up on me and believed the lie that they told themselves, which was, well, that I will never make it in this world.

The fact that two little kids were given up on by their own mother. Cast aside for something that won’t be worth half the value in the matter of days. But fortunately we were given a second chance. A chance to prove to that person, as well as ourselves, that we are not meant to be those children from 13 years ago. We are sunflowers waiting to blossom. Children born in a pit who were given the resources, through Agape love to ascend to the top. The thought that we are God’s creations, and God set out a plan for us that cannot be broken and any barrier that stands in our way, no matter how strong, will be broken down!”

Aaron says “God, faith and prayer,” are the most important things in his life, along with family. He said he thoroughly enjoyed telling his story and that optimism, ironically enough, is neither hard nor easy.

“It depends on the circumstances,” he said. “If things are terrible, it’s hard to be optimistic, yet if they are going well, you should be. That’s part of the human experience.”

Wise words from a wise young man. Here are a few more that he used to close out his speech:

“I have come a long way from where I was 13 years ago. Looking back, I probably would have been one of those people who had given up on myself too. But I realize that if I had done that I wouldn’t be here in front of you all today. Only God knows where I would be, but as long as I live and have my support team I can not, shall not, and will not give up. And all of that my friends are the roots of my optimism.”