Students at the Back Bay/Monte Vista High School campus listened to an anti-bullying seminar Tuesday featuring former UFC fighter Mark Munoz.
Munoz — a retired middleweight Ultimate Fighting Championship competitor once nicknamed the "Filipino Wrecking Machine" — spread a message that the students at the Costa Mesa campus are in charge of their destinies and can triumph in the face of adversity.
Sporting Air Jordan shoes and a T-shirt bearing the hashtag #StopBullying, he shared his own story about growing up in Vallejo in the Bay Area. He lived near an impoverished neighborhood.
Munoz talked about a time he was physically and verbally bullied by classmates who took the Air Jordans he got for Christmas off his feet.
"I was angry, I was sad, I was depressed," Munoz said. The incident made him reluctant to return to school.
But it eventually led him to get involved in wrestling and ultimately become a championship wrestler in high school, college and professionally.
"You can rise above any type of adversity you come in contact with," Munoz said.
He emphasized making good choices, avoiding drugs and finding good company.
"If you want to be an eagle, you can't hang out with the turkeys," Munoz said.
Tuesday's presentation also included remarks from Danny Carrillo of the Orange County Department of Education anti-bullying program.
Many of the students said they have drug addicts in their families, had been cussed at by an adult within the past month or had witnessed violence in their neighborhoods.
Carrillo assured them they could overcome that and succeed.
He also complimented Back Bay High's new principal, Marc Trocchio, for his support for the students.
"I'm telling you right now," Carrillo said, motioning to Trocchio, who was seated nearby. "This guy's got your back."