HUMBLE, Texas (BP) — Before Friday, May 26, the largest group Campbell Lino had spoken to about Jesus was the 75 or so at her church during a prayer meeting.
Ascending the stage as valedictorian for Atascocita High School, she was going to once again talk about the Gospel. This time, it would be to a graduating class of 905 from a high school of almost 4,000 in front of a crowd of 10,000 in the building where the Houston Texans play on Sundays.
Since her earliest days of attendance in the Humble Independent School District, Lino had the goal of becoming valedictorian. The motivation to get there had nothing to do with pointing to herself, however; it was about pointing others to Christ.
Her speech (1:34:00 mark) began with an ever-so-Texan “Hi, ya’ll” and congratulations to the salutatorian and rest of the top 10 graduates in her class.
“Now I want to talk to you all about the most important person in my life – Jesus Christ – and how He has changed my life,” she said.
The seconds that followed came as a surprise to Lino and her parents, Nathan and Nicole.
Lino found out in early May she was valedictorian. With the opportunity to share the Gospel with her entire class before her, she turned in her planned speech (as required) a few weeks later. It brought an invitation to the principal’s office.
“He told me I could not give that speech and there were certain things he didn’t want me to say,” Lino told Baptist Press. “We spent about 30 minutes combing through my speech and talking about phrases.
“The idea was that I shouldn’t offend people with what I said. But the parts he wanted to cut out were very important parts of the Gospel presentation.”
She went to her parents to talk it all over.
Eyes on the goal
Lino’s senior year has been unconventional. Her father founded Northeast Houston Baptist Church, but June 1 will mark the one-year anniversary of his accepting a call as pastor at First Baptist in Forney, 240 miles away near Dallas. Her goal of earning valedictorian in sight, Lino and her parents agreed on her completing her senior year at AHS while living with a couple from the Houston church.
“Campbell had grown up in the same neighborhood her whole life – attended the same church, went to the same local schools from elementary up through middle and into high school. All she’s ever known is a very stable life in that area,” Nathan Lino said.
Wanting to honor her desire to share the Gospel while respecting authority, Lino and her parents worked through a rewrite of the speech.
“We talked about different ways to give the Gospel presentation,” she said. “A week after that, the speech was approved.”
The graduation program contained a disclaimer distancing the school district from the content of student speeches. It’s unclear if this was in response to Lino’s planned speech or a disclaimer that isn’t uncommon for graduation ceremonies.
Part of Lino’s preparation for delivering her speech – which ended up “about 90 percent” of the approved version – was the reaction of the crowd. What if classmates jeered or stood up and walked out? What if the crowd tried to talk her down?
One wouldn’t think these to be concerns in Texas, but “it was an intense moment,” her dad said.
“It was very emotional and stressful and adrenaline-pumping because we didn’t know what was going to happen. There is a very liberal element to her school and so we had covered those scenarios in advance.
“We are super proud of her courage at 17 years old”
‘… across the street from Iguana Joe’s”
Upon her saying, “… Jesus Christ, and how He has changed my life” the crowd responded with cheers.
“I didn’t know how they would react,” Lino said. “I just assumed it would not be warm. Walking up to the podium, I was very nervous and praying like crazy.
“When they started clapping, I was shocked. It was good to know the crowd supported me.”
Life was confusing before she really understood what Jesus meant to her, she shared. She was gifted in learning other languages and academics. She had a great family and friends. Yet she struggled to find happiness in what she saw in the world while battling her own self-centeredness.
“But then I learned that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the true king of the human race,” she said into the microphone, followed by clapping and growing cheers.
Where Jesus and His Lordship are acknowledged, she said, thriving follows. Where He isn’t, there is brokenness. But His love for all mankind is exemplified in His death on the cross and resurrection three days later.
Understanding all of this, she said, “completely changed me.”
Her testimony concluded with an explanation and invitation to all who would welcome such a change. She and others at Northeast Houston Baptist Church would be happy to have those discussions.
“It’s right by our school across the street from Iguana Joe’s,” she specified.
Several videos of her speech charged across social media, with one on Facebook garnering more than 91,000 views as of May 30.
This Fall, Lino will join her older brother, Colton, at Cedarville University. There, her major in linguistics and minor in Bible will serve toward her plans on becoming a missionary and Bible translator.
“I was still shocked at how the crowd responded,” she told BP of her descent from the stage last Friday. “I could feel the presence of the Lord.”