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Seniors View Annual Your Life, Your Choices Presentation

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On April 30th, 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, motor vehicle accidents are the #1 cause of teen deaths in America. Most are directly caused by distracted (texting, phone, radio, friends, etc.) or impaired (alcohol or drugs) driving. As prom and graduation season arrives, 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 over the years students from West G., Chardon, NDCL, Kirtland, Chagrin Falls, Kenston, Gilmour and other local schools have been totally silent and attentive, as the speakers communicated a message that we all “know,” but still need to hear.

The program began with a twist this year. Normally, two current inmates who are serving time in prison, both males, speak. One of the speakers tells of being 9 years into a 10 year sentence for killing someone due to drunk driving. To make a realistic impression on the audience, in past years, the inmates are escorted in by deputies, shackled at the hands, feet and midsection. If anyone doubted whether these were convicted criminals, watching them be “unchained” removed the doubts. This year the prisoners were not chained and the presentation added two additional inmates…both female…to cement that drunk driving (or being part of a “meth lab” as one of the females was) is not a gender – exclusive crime. While still powerful, some felt the message was not as impactful as it has been in previous years. Senior Lindsey Kulp noted, “Parts of it were extremely powerful, but I didn’t find it as emotional as people said it would be.”

The students also have the opportunity to watch 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. In this part of the program, he recounts what it was like to watch his daughter pass away after they decided to “pull the plug.” This is, every year, heart – wrenching and visibly upsets many of the attendees, as tears flow freely from many eyes.

Officer Goldsmith has stated previously that he started this program to raise awareness in the teen community about how the choices people make can have lasting (and sometimes fatal) results. Senior Reno Marino said, “I think it was pretty helpful. I feel as if I drive safer now…but still a little crazy.”

The program’s final presenter has always been 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 when 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.

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. After viewing this presentation, students will (hopefully) 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.

High School Resource Officer Mark Rich said, “After the presentation, I had several kids come to my office, affected by the presentation. We discussed texting and driving the most. I was able to show them an app that is built into the iphone, If your Bluetooth is turned on and connected to your vehicle, (which almost everyone does for music), if you get a text, an auto-reply text is sent back to the person who texted you, saying, ‘I’m driving with do not disturb while driving turned on. I’ll see your message when I get where I’m going.’ Several students turned on this setting while standing in my office.”

Mr. Cooksey summed it up best at the end of the 2018 presentation 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, that message is as worth it today, as it was 52 weeks ago.

 

 

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