You could hear a pin drop as students listened attentively to speakers during the Speaker Symposium at La Quinta High School in Westminster on Friday, March 9th.

Organized by students in the BRIDGES program, the Speaker Symposium exposed high school students to different human relations’ issues such as school bullying, drug abuse, Islamophobia, youth empowerment, and human trafficking.

This year’s theme was “You know, so Unite!” Our goal is to unite. We want the community to be more open- minded about social problems,” said Andrew Nguyen, a junior who has participated in the BRIDGES program for four years.

Students rotated through classrooms and listened to speeches by 22 guest speakers in a span of four class periods.

Bao Nguyen, Vice President of Garden Grove Unified School District’s Board of Trustees, was one of the speakers. He told a class of seniors about his family’s escape from Vietnam and the obstacles and challenges they faced coming to America. He encouraged students to empower themselves by “sharing stories to promote action” and “to organize and build power,” because, as he says, “youth are powerful and together they can make changes happen.”

In the next round of presentations, Mustafa Huwari addressed the growing concerns about Islamophobia in Southern California. Huwari explained the basic tenets of Islam, addressed misconceptions about the religion, spoke about bigotry and terrorism, and ended by answering students’ questions about the religion.

“Why don’t Muslim men shave off their beards?” asked one student. “Would you shave off a lion’s mane?” replied Huwari. “But doesn’t it get itchy?” wondered the student. “You get used to it, and plus come on, I look handsome with it,” smirked Huwari.

Freshman Jennifer Pham echoed the feelings of many students when asked which presentation she was anticipating the most. “The Invisible Children [presentation] because of everything in the news,” said Pham.

The Kony 2012 documentary by the Invisible Children organization has put Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony on everyone’s most wanted list for kidnapping and recruiting Ugandan children as soldiers for his rebel group. Thus, Papito Francis, a Ugandan native with the Invisible Children organization, shared his story with students. Francis explained the trials and tribulations Ugandans have faced because of Joseph Kony and pressed students to stand up for change. “A person is weak, but people are strong,” said Francis. “Take action and make a change.”

Each speaker urged students to challenge and educate themselves and others.