Senior Presentation Explains Life…and Death

Your Life, Your Choice Program Connects Emotionally with Senior Class


On April 24th, West G’s seniors made the annual trip to Parkside Church for the “Your Life, Your Choices” presentation. According to Geauga County Sheriff Scott Hildenbrand, who led off the program, motor vehicle accidents are the #1 cause of teen deaths in America. Most of those are directly caused by distracted (texting, phone, radio, friends, etc.) or impaired (by alcohol or drugs) driving. As prom and graduation season arrives, local high schools are trying to be pro-active in their approach to reminding teens about making good choices and not taking unnecessary risks. This presentation is powerfully emotional, and students from West G., Chardon, NDCL, Gilmour and several other local schools were totally silent and attentive, as the speakers communicated a message that we all “know,” but still need to hear.

The program began with two current inmates who are serving time in prison. One of the speakers told his story of being 8 years into a 10 year sentence for killing someone due to drunk driving. To make a realistic impression on the audience, the inmates were escorted in by deputies, shackled at the hands, feet and midsection. If anyone had doubts as to whether or not these were convicted criminals, watching them be “unchained” removed them. “Seeing the prisoners chained made me realize that good people can do bad things and that actions always have consequences,” said senior Kayla Lorenzo.

Following that the students watched a video of the presentation’s founder, Officer Richard Goldsmith, of the Chagrin Falls Police Department. Officer Goldsmith lost his daughter, Emily, to a drunk driver in 2002. This part of the program, as he recounted what it was like to watch his daughter pass away after they decided to “pull the plug,” was heart – wrenching and many of the audience members were visibly upset, as tears flowed freely from many eyes. Officer Goldsmith started this program to raise awareness in the teen community about how the choices people make can have lasting, and sometimes fatal, results. The pain and anguish on his face as he told this story was impossible to ignore and made a huge impression on the listeners. Senior Cameron Zimmermann said, “It was very powerful. It made me think of my family a lot, especially when he said that as a parent you try to do your best, but it doesn’t always work. When he was talking about what he could have done differently as a parent for his daughter was really moving.”

The program’s final presenter was 37 – year old Aaron Cooksey from North Canton. Cooksey was convicted of killing 20 year old Andrea Calderone in a one – vehicle accident where she was the passenger and he was driving…drunk…in 2001. Cooksey, a former three – sport athlete and Mount Union student, recalled, “I stared at her stomach for what felt like a lifetime. It was probably a minute, a minute and a half. I said, ‘Come on, move. Move.’ It never did.” Cooksey’s section of the program explained how he came from a comfortable, suburban home, with all the chances, advantages, and “tools” to be successful given to him. Within 18 months, it spiraled out of control into a mix of alcohol, drugs and depression. For his crime, Cooksey was sent to prison and lost his driver license for life. Since 2006 Cooksey has delivered his message 50–to –75 times per year in 44 states. Senior Amy Sparent noted, “For him to not want to be ‘praised’ for telling his story for killing someone was impressive. That he wants others to learn from him mistakes and not repeat them is a good thing.”

At this time of the year, students will be celebrating the end of one phase of life (school) and the beginning of the next chapter: adulthood. Sadly, every year stories appear on the news, in the paper and on social media of new graduates, whose futures are cut short because of drinking, driving, drug use, poor choices or other preventable causes. Hopefully, after viewing this presentation, students will think twice as they celebrate and not become a statistic of the unlucky few who had their “whole lives ahead of them,” cancelled because of a bad decision.

Mr. Cooksey summed it up best when he said, “Let the choices you make today be the ones you can LIVE with tomorrow.” There were hundreds of teens in that room; if that presentation saves even one life, it was worth it.