In Sue Keller’s bedroom is a sign that says, “You Can Make a Difference.” She heard the phrase in a talk, and she added it to her collection of photographs and posters on the wall.
But Sue has done more than just hang up a sign. She is a living example of how one person can make a big difference. She served her school, Mount Si High School (North Bend, Washington), as student president, captain of her volleyball and basketball teams, and president of her seminary class. Sue encouraged her fellow students in some big projects—a talent show and painting the school—that made their last year of high school unforgettable.
Sue didn’t start out as a leader. She learned by trial and error. Growing up, Sue was just part of the crowd until the crowd started going a direction she did not care to follow. Her upbringing in the Church gave her a perspective different than that of her friends.
“In my second year of high school, my friends started doing awful things that would make me cry for them. I just wanted to shake them and ask, ‘What are you doing?’ but I couldn’t. It was frustrating. I started saying to myself, ‘Hey, Sue, you don’t need to do those things.’ “
That’s when she decided to make her own choices and possibly lead her friends in the right direction as well. Her bishop, Allen Dance of the Snoqualmie Valley Ward, noticed her ability to be a positive influence on her friends. “Sue has always sought the good. She has strengthened the weak in our ward and in the school. She goes out of her way to be friends to people who need a friend. As a result of her example, others have been blessed.”
Sometimes making a difference is as easy as saying one sentence. A couple of years ago, before the beginning of the girls’ basketball season, Sue said, “Let’s say a prayer.” They followed her suggestion before that first game, and it became a habit. “I always said the prayer before every game. Sometimes I would say, ‘Doesn’t someone else want to offer the prayer today?’ And a couple of times someone else would. But most of the time, the team would all be standing around waiting for me, calling, ‘Sue, come and say the prayer.’”
During her campaign to be elected as the student president, Sue introduced a theme, “Seek for the highest that is in you.” As high school students will do, some started making fun of the theme. But Sue persevered, using the theme for all the school activities throughout the year, and the ridicule died down. The school principal said, “There are always those who will take something positive and try to make fun of it. Sue was able to overcome that just by her pleasant attitude and by not taking herself too seriously or getting defensive when people would make fun of the theme. The theme became the accepted motto for the students that year.”
One of the projects that the students at Mount Si really had to work hard to complete was the painting of the school halls. It was a huge job, but Sue and other student government officers decided it could be done. They needed more than 200 students to come and help with each step of the project—preparing the walls, applying an undercoat of paint, then the main coat of paint, and finally, the colored trim.
The assistant principal, said, “I walked into the first meeting, and I knew right then that they were going to succeed because Sue was organized and ready to begin. In a notebook she had inspirational sayings and a list of what needed to be done and a schedule for each step. And she had invited all the right people to the meeting. She had invited some students that she saw as leaders. She had invited someone from the school’s maintenance staff. She got me there. She understands organizational skills.”
The big painting project was successful, but not before Sue managed some last-minute crises. The first day of the four-day project was bright and sunny. For that time of year, a sunny day was rare. “Suddenly I panicked,” said Sue. “Who would want to come paint the school on a nice day like that?”
But people did show up—in time for the second crisis. After the walls were prepared for painting, it was time to apply the undercoat of paint. Just as more than one hundred students were ready to start painting, the school custodian rushed up to Sue and showed her the label on one of the cans. The flammable undercoat was supposed to be used only in well ventilated areas. They opened every window and door, turned off the electricity to avoid sparks, and covered all the electrical outlets. In the meantime, Sue had retreated to ask for some additional help. “I found an empty room, and got down on my knees.” Everything went smoothly. The danger was avoided. And the group had a great time. It was hard work but really a lot of fun too.
After giving the school halls a new coat of pale gray paint with maroon trim, the students under Sue’s leadership took new pride in their school. Now, if anyone even thinks about defacing or vandalizing the walls, they are warned by other students, “Don’t do it. I painted this wall, and nobody is going to write on it.”
Then there was the talent show where, for the first time, the students who could play the piano, sing, dance or act were recognized. “The best thing,” said Sue, “was that we have these very talented people and they never get recognized like the athletes do. That was our point. People you never hear about were excited to be in the show. We held a performance for the students and another for the parents.”
And there were other times when a young man broke up with his first girlfriend or when a star athlete got dropped from the softball team for drinking alcohol. The school principal said Sue was there to help. “I’ve seen her help and encourage boys and girls of all ages. She’ll put her arm around them when she knows they are having a bad day, and walk down the halls with them, talking to them and cheering them up. To have the student president come up and do that for you is a very meaningful experience for a lot of our students. Sue works very well with people on an individual basis.”
But where does Sue get the strength and resolve to keep standing up and making a difference in other people’s lives?
“My mom is one of my best friends,” said Sue. “After the hardest days, I can tell her everything. She has the answers. She’ll tell me things to do about school problems or boy problems. I do it, and it works. If I didn’t have her and my dad’s support, I don’t know what I would do.” Sue also gets good advice and support from her other family members.
The Church is one of Sue’s greatest sources of guidance and comfort. At a youth conference, the bishop challenged all of the youth to pray for confirmation that the Church was true even if they already had a testimony.
Sue accepted the challenge although she had some reservations. “I felt I didn’t need to ask because I know the Church is true. But I wanted to tell my friends about my testimony before I graduated from high school. They sometimes tease me about being a Mormon.”
Sue did pray, but the answer didn’t seem to come. Then one day she was with some friends, and suddenly she was in the middle of a serious conversation about the Church with one of them. The friend asked, “How do you know that it is true, Sue?”
“Suddenly I realized that Heavenly Father was giving me an opportunity to say that I do know the Church is true. Here I was bearing my testimony, telling her this is the truth. I didn’t realize until that night that my prayer had been answered.”
The friend then asked if she could go to church with the Keller family. Soon she was attending seminary with Sue and receiving the discussions from the missionaries. “It’s been wonderful,” Sue said. “I’ve never done that with a friend before.”
Sue Keller is just one girl, but she is one who has made a difference. Her dad, Ward Keller, tried to explain Sue’s uniqueness. “She’s extra special, and I don’t really know how she got that way.” But he really did know. In describing his daughter, he shared the quality that has helped her make a difference. “She’s been an example to her peers. She has held her standards and beliefs high and has lived them.”
There are others like Sue Keller in this world who have made a difference by living gospel standards. Whether they are young or old, we would like to share their experiences with our readers. If you know of someone who has made a difference by the way they live, please tell us about them. Send your letters to International Magazines, 50 East North Temple Street, 25th floor, Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.A. 84150. Be sure to include your name and address. Thank you.