Immaculate Conception Catholic School students were waving their hands, pumping their fists and dancing to the beat Wednesday as they heard an encouraging musical message about their worth and purpose.
Immaculate Conception was hosting musical duo Jess Angelique and Mike Dawson with Next Gen Assemblies. They told the children they are MVPs -- they Matter, they have Value and they have Purpose. The presentation was full of high-energy music punctuated by the two presenters telling stories about their experiences with bullying, low self-esteem and other struggles -- and how they overcame them.
"You have no idea the impact that you can make on somebody's life when you choose to be kind to one another," said Jess Angelique, recounting her experience with a bully.
"I know it's easy when people put us down to be mean back, to fight back, because you know, hurt people hurt people. You know what I mean?" she said to the middle-school students. "But instead of me fighting back, I chose to be kind to her. I chose to rise above those things -- to be kind, to end that toxic cycle of bullying, of negativity that just is so rampant in our society."
She then performed a song entitled "Rise," before handing the microphone off to Mike Dawson, who shared his story.
"Three years ago today, I was nearly as heavy as a refrigerator," Dawson told the students.
After years of doctor's warnings, Dawson said he reflected on why he was making unhealthy choices.
"I undervalued my health because I undervalued myself," he said.
A change occurred when Dawson was able to recognize that he was turning to food when he felt bad about himself. He decided to take care of himself better by remembering his value.
"My strongholds and my struggle don't define me. They are not what gives me value. Jesus Christ is what gives me value. I didn't realize that," he said. "I didn't realize that I was still a valuable human being. I felt like because of my failures, because of my strongholds, I didn't have value. But I couldn't be more wrong, guys."
He ended up losing 100 pounds and becoming more healthy.
After another song, entitled "Elite," which had the students clapping along, Angelique shared the importance of recognizing that each person has a purpose by not allowing other people's opinions to define their story.
In their final song, the duo got students and teachers to come up and dance with them.
It was the first time the group had visited Immaculate Conception, and school counselor Emily Rowland said the message is something that everyone needs to hear.
She said social media and society in general peddle the message that no one is good enough and they need to change.
"And the impact that that can have on our kids' mental health and their self esteem ... I see that as the counselor," she said.
She said the students can "only hear it so many times" from her, but it's helpful to have younger people come in to share the message in a relatable way, like through music.
The middle school students got to spend time with the two speakers throughout the day in breakout sessions split between boys and girls, and the younger students got a similar presentation at the end of the day.