Video: Rohan Murphy offers inspiration–and makes a request
By Kevin Coughlin
A recent pair of bias incidents has triggered a series of educational responses at the Frelinghuysen Middle School.
But on Friday it got personal, as students heard a pitch for tolerance from a man who knows how if feels to be shunned for being different.
“Be inclusive in life, not exclusive,” urged Rohan Murphy, who grew up without legs because of a birth defect.
A coach in 9th grade encouraged him to become a wrestler. Murphy was determined to excel. “No excuses” became his motto.
Teammates welcomed him. For the first time, he felt accepted. He no longer needed to wear prosthetic legs to hide his disability. “I have to be who I am,” he realized.
Murphy, now 33, went on to wrestle for Penn State, a collegiate powerhouse. His story has been featured on ABC, and in Nike commercials.
The Long Island native, sponsored by the Morris Educational Foundation, spoke at FMS one week after an anti-Semitic message was found scrawled in a girls bathroom. Last month, four swastikas were etched in a boys bathroom stall.
Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin
The Morris Township school has responded with social studies classes about the history of such symbols. Guidance counselors will follow up with sessions about the dangers of prejudice. Homerooms are designing positive symbols for their doors.
Principal Joseph Uglialoro said Friday he has asked local temples if they can bring a Holocaust survivor to address students.
He also is hopeful that someone from the bias crimes division of the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office can talk to the kids.
“These two incredibly unfortunate incidents don’t define us,” said the principal.
On Friday, he told an auditorium full of 7th graders to take Rohan Murphy’s message to heart.
“We are so fortunate that we get to work and come to school and live in a community that is as diverse as Morristown is, in every way — diversity of race, of ethnicity, in the language that you speak in your homes, the faith that you believe in,” Uglialoro said.
“And in a community like this that we’re so fortunate to be a part of, we have to all make those differences a strength, and take Rohan’s words and carry them with us.”
Murphy wowed three assemblies with his can-do spirit and athletic prowess. He performed grueling “pyramid” pushups, walked across the stage doing handstands, and demonstrated his cobra-quick take-down move on an awestruck young wrestler.
“Inspiring,” said the wrestler, Lucas Scheid.
Daneyah Thomas, an 8th grader with cerebral palsy, felt the same way. “Rohan said no excuses, and nothing can hold you back. I feel if he can do it, I can.”
Murphy left everyone with some challenges. Aspire to greatness. Give life everything you’ve got. Take nothing for granted.
“When all of you are in the cafeteria, invite more kids to sit at your lunch table. When all of you get married someday, invite more people to your wedding…
“Be inclusive in life, and give people a chance, and embrace their differences. That’s not an anti-bullying stance. To me, that’s a human stance.”
Video: Principal urges inclusion after second bias incident