BETHESDA, MD, January 29, 2013 (LifeSiteNews) – Over 2,000 high school and college students packed the Montgomery County Conference Center in Bethesda on Saturday to attend the Students for Life of America annual conference. The conference, held just one day after the March for Life, featured dozens of speakers and educational sessions aimed at helping students become leaders in the pro-life movement.
Ten high schools and 86 colleges from around the nation were represented at the daylong event, including Stanley Catholic High School from Fargo, ND, whose students traveled 31 hours by bus to attend both the conference and the March for Life.
Matthew Fulkes, 17, is a senior at Stanley. He told LifeSiteNews that it was his first time attending the march. “It was amazing,” said Fulkes. “Cold, but amazing.”
Another Stanley student said he was learning a lot at the conference workshops.
“I learned how to talk to women in crisis pregnancies, and how to talk to women who have had abortions,” said Gunnar Bossart, also 17, “and I just got done with an apologetics workshop.”
Craig Needham, 18, said he attended a workshop on Theology of the Body. “It’s interesting to get a different perspective on the things we’ve learned in school,” he said.
Fulkes agreed. “In high school,” he said, “we actually learn about a lot of the same stuff, so it’s cool to correlate our ideas with what the professors here are talking about.”
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All three boys said they were looking forward to trying to use the lessons they learned at the conference in their everyday lives back home.
“Growing up in a Catholic school,” Needham said, “a lot of kids, I feel, take it for granted. But when you come on, like, the march, and take the opportunity to go to these workshops, it makes these things that you’re learning tangible, and it helps you apply it to your life.”
Workshops were available for a wide-ranging array of topics. Students could take lessons in how to sidewalk counsel women entering abortion clinics. They could participate in a social media strategy session. There were workshops targeted specifically to high school students, and specifically toward undergrads. One workshop aimed at pre-med students featured a doctor, Bryan Calhoun, who gave the young would-be physicians an overview of life issues in the medical field and taught them how to help patients facing poor prenatal diagnoses or other worrisome prognoses work through their fears and choose life instead of abortion.
“You never have to kill a baby to save the life of the mother,” said Dr. Calhoun. He repeated the statement often during his presentation, as he progressed through a list of test results and diagnoses that often end in abortion.
At the end of his talk, he took questions and comments from the students. One young woman stood up and tearfully addressed the crowd – her mother had been told by a doctor that she would have severe birth defects and either die at birth or “not have a life worth living,” she said. The doctor pressured her mother to abort, but her mother refused. She was born perfectly healthy. “Miracles do happen,” she said.
While the day’s offerings focused on serious topics, the evening brought a bit of levity. At the evening general session, Students for Life awarded Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life with their “Defender of Life” award. He gave the keynote speech, then delighted the crowd by joining the staff of Students for Life on stage to sing and dance to a pro-life rendition of Korean pop artist PSY’s viral hit “Gangnam Style.” After that, the group held a pep rally featuring Christian rock band Revely and Tyler and Catelynn from MTV’s “16 and Pregnant.”
Kandace Landreneau, president of Louisiana State University’s Students for Life chapter, said it was her third year at the conference. “It’s been amazing every year,” she said. “We brought all of our new members from our LSU pro-life club because I think they need to see this.” Landreneau said the LSU group brought a total of 55 students to the conference.
Landrenaeu praised the high quality of the workshops. “Earlier I was in a session about Planned Parenthood and how to defund them. That was phenomenal and really equipped me,” she said. “They came well-prepared, you know. I feel like the conference isn’t something to just have fun or mess around with. This is too important.”
Asked what she hopes her fellow LSU students would take away from the experience, Landreneau said she hoped “that they see the unity in the pro-life movement, and that the majority – the largest pro-life conference on the planet – is college age, you know? I want them to see that and I want them to realize that [ending abortion] is our job, and that we’re the ones capable of doing it, so we’re responsible to do it.”
“Over fifty percent of abortions are done on women between the ages of 18 and 24,” Landreneau added. “The people in this room are between 18 and 24. That’s us. So, it’s our job.”