The sign above closet door in Sue Keller’s bedroom says, “You Can Make a Difference.” She heard the phrase in a talk, and it has earned a place on her crowded bedroom wall among her group photos of the girls’ varsity volleyball and basketball teams and next to her favorite Mormonad posters.
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, Mt. Si High School in North Bend, Washington, as student-body president, seminary president, and captain of her volleyball and basketball teams. And she encouraged her fellow students in some big projects that made their senior year unforgettable, like a talent show and painting the school.
Sue didn’t start out as a leader. She learned by trial and error. Growing up, Sue was just part of the gang until the gang started going a direction she did not care to follow. Her upbringing in the Church gave her a different perspective than her friends.
“In my sophomore year, 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 you can’t. It was frustrating. I started saying to myself, ‘Hey, Sue, no one is going to stick with you through this. You’re on your own.’”
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 bring people up to a higher level. “Sue has always been a magnet towards the good. She has pulled up 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 affected.”
Sometimes making a difference is as easy as saying one sentence. A couple of years ago, before the start 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 say it today?’ And a couple of times someone else would say it. Most of the time, the team would all be standing around waiting for me, yelling, ‘Sue, hurry up and pray.’”
During her campaign for student-body 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 activities throughout the year, and the silliness died down. The principal of Mt. Si, Scott Menard, said, “There are always those who will take something positive and try to undermine it. Sue was able to overcome that just by her good-naturedness and by not taking herself too seriously or getting defensive when people would put the theme down. She kept it through every assembly. She didn’t allow the focus to wander, and it became the accepted motto for the students that year.”
One of the projects that the students at Mt. Si really had to stretch to complete was the painting of the school halls. It was a huge job. Sue and other student-body officers decided to try for it, but it was a scary undertaking. They needed more than 200 students to show up to help with each step of the project. What if they didn’t come?
Elaine Clifford, assistant principal, said, “I walked into the first meeting, and I knew right then that they were going to make it because Sue had a notebook ready to go. In it she had inspirational sayings and a time line about what needed to be accomplished. She had a calendar. She had a list of jobs that needed to be done. And she had invited all the right people. She had invited some students that she saw as leaders. She had invited someone from the maintenance staff. She got me there. She understands organizational skills.”
The big painting project was successful, but not before Sue sweated out some last-minute crises. The first day of the four-day project dawned bright and sunny. In the normal wet weather of northwestern Washington, a sunny spring day is a rarity. “Suddenly I panicked,” said Sue. “Who would want to come paint the school on a day like that? What are we trying to do?”
But people did show up—in time for the second crisis. After the walls were sanded and taped, it was time to apply the deglosser. Just as more than a hundred students were really getting into the swing of things, the custodian rushed up to Sue and showed her the label on one of the cans. The flammable deglosser 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 whipped into the bathroom, my favorite bathroom for praying, and was 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 marring the walls, they are warned by their peers, “Don’t try 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 highlighted. “The neatest thing,” said Sue, “was that we have these super talented people and they never get recognized like the athletes do. That was our point. People you never hear about came out and were excited to be in the show. We held a school performance and an evening performance.”
And there were other times when a sophomore boy broke up with his first girlfriend or a star athlete got kicked off the softball team for drinking. Principal Menard said Sue was there to help. “I’ve seen her take people of all grade levels, both sexes, with her arm around them when she knows they are down, just walking down the halls with them, talking to them and cheering them up. To have the student-body president come up and do that for you is a very meaningful experience to a lot of kids. I think she works so well with people on an individual basis.”
But what holds Sue together? Where does she 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 dump out 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 older brother and sister and younger brother.
The Church is one of Sue’s greatest sources of guidance and comfort. At youth conference, the bishop challenged all 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. They sometimes tease me about being a Mormon.”
Sue did pray, but the answer didn’t seem to come in a big way. Then she and some friends had to drive to the next town to have their pictures taken for graduation. Suddenly, she was in the middle of an intense conversation about the Church with a receptive friend. The friend asked, “How do you know that it is true, Sue?”
“All of a sudden it dawned on me 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. It didn’t hit me until that night that it was the answer to my prayers.
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. “That’s been the greatest,” 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 pin it down. “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 hit upon 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.”