Ansley's presentation the toast of Lions Day at the United Nations - March 14, 2019
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Blyth’s Mikayla Ansley wouldn’t let travel woes or a severe fever stop her from performing on the biggest stage of her life: reciting her world’s-best peace essay at Lions Day at the United Nations in New York City.
Last month, Ansley’s essay, entitled “Kindness Matters”, was named the best in the world by Lions Clubs International. In addition to a trophy and a trip to New York City to speak at the United Nations, she also took home a cash prize of $5,000 U.S. for her efforts.
After a mad dash to get Ansley a passport in just a few weeks, Ansley and her parents, Katie and Mike, travelled to New York on Thursday alongside John and Mary Lou Stewart from the Blyth Lions Club. Their first flight was cancelled and their second flight would eventually be delayed a number of hours, but they arrived Thursday evening and took Friday to see the city, with the Ansleys taking an eight-hour bus tour of Manhattan while the Stewarts struck out on their own.
Then, on Saturday morning, Mikayla woke up with a fever, feeling very, very sick just hours before the family was due to arrive at the United Nations headquarters.
Mikayla, however, knew that she had to power through her illness and speak for hundreds of Lions Club members who had come from all over the world to be part of Lions Day at the United Nations.
“All I can say is, ‘wow’,” Mikayla said as she addressed the crowd that day. “I never imagined that writing that essay would lead me to where I am sitting right now.”
She went on to thank a number of people who helped her along the way, including Lions Clubs International, the Blyth Lions Club, the Stewarts and her parents.
“I give many thanks to the International Lions Club for pointing out this amazing opportunity and choosing my essay and being awesome and helping young legally blind or blind people like me have an opportunity to have a voice and to do something amazing,” she said.
After Ansley spoke to all in attendance, she recited her essay and received a standing ovation from all of the Lions Club members.
John said that Mikayla was the star of the event as, once it concluded, Lions members from all over the world wanted to come meet her, speak with her and take a picture with her.
Mikayla said she even received an invitation to speak in Arizona at a special Leo Club day, addressing youth volunteers in the United States.
In an interview after her trip, Mikayla said it was an amazing experience to be able to reach so many people with her message of kindness. However, because she was feeling so sick, once Lions Day at the United Nations was over, all she wanted to do was return to the hotel and go to sleep.
Katie and Mike both said they were amazed to see how well Mikayla performed, considering how sick she was.
Mikayla went from literally resting with her head on her arm with sweat running down her face to speaking eloquently and gracefully to a room of hundreds of men and women from all over the world.
Katie said she was initially concerned about Mikayla’s speech when she told her parents that she wanted to “wing it” instead of preparing notes. She did practise what she wanted to say a few times, but she was one of the only speakers that day who addressed the crowd without the help of notes.
John said that from his vantage point – he sat beside Mikayla as she presented – there wasn’t a dry eye in the house once she was done reading her essay.
The Stewarts said they were extremely proud of Mikayla, watching her speak to hundreds of people, including Lions Clubs International President Gudrun Yngvadottir of Iceland, on such a big stage. They agreed that it was amazing to see a young girl from Blyth who has not had an easy path in life being named the world’s best at the United Nations in New York.
Katie and Mike agreed, saying it was a very special feeling to watch their daughter, after all she’s been through, do what she did that day.
In many ways, Katie said, the Lions Club has shaped who Mikayla is, so it was fitting that she would be presented this opportunity through the Lions.
When Mikayla was first diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma, a rare form of ocular cancer that caused her to lose her left eye and most of the vision in her right, it was the Blyth Lions Club that truly stepped up and helped the family in its time of need.
Katie said that she wasn’t working in order to be with Mikayla and Mike was only working part-time before the company he worked for went bankrupt and both parents were without jobs at a time when their daughter was having to travel for treatment on a regular basis.
While the Ansleys were living in Kitchener at the time, it was the Blyth Lions Club that stepped up and held a huge fundraiser for the family, which went a long way to ensuring financial stability for them at a very unstable time.
Furthermore, Katie said, it has been the Blyth Lions Club that has given Mikayla the opportunity to find her voice through public speaking, leading her to win at the provincial level and compete against some truly great speakers over the years.
Mikayla has become a truly great public speaker in recent years, Katie said, and she owes much of that success to the Lions Club.
“She wouldn’t be who she is without the Lions Club,” Katie said. “They really molded her and gave her the confidence to know that she’s a great public speaker.”
Before the Ansleys left New York, the Lions asked Mikayla to be part of a special filmed interview on Sunday morning. There, she detailed a little bit about herself and she read her essay so it could be broadcast around the world.
On a sight-seeing note, Mikayla and her family said they were very impressed with New York City. Mikayla said her favourite attractions were Times Square and the Statue of Liberty.
The Blyth Lions Club is in the midst of planning a special open house for Mikayla and her family, hopefully sometime in April. Keep reading The Citizen for updates on that event.