This is Why I Do It
Earlier this year I delivered a substance abuse presentation to a group of 200 junior high school students at a local elementary school. The presentation went smoothly, but this was a tough group. In fact, it was easily the toughest crowd I’ve had so far as a Peer Educator.
Normally during a presentation, I’m constantly receiving visual feedback from the kids with whom I’m speaking. Their facial expressions show that what they’re hearing is resonating with them and that the message is getting through. This time, however, that didn’t happen nearly as much, which concerned me. As middle school kids can tend to do right before 3 P.M. on a Friday, they got a bit restless toward the end of my presentation. Therefore, the Q&A session following this presentation was the shortest one to date. I thanked the students for their time and let them know that if any of them wanted to speak with me individually, I would stick around for a while.
When it was all said and done, I was particularly run down. I had spent the previous week fighting off a tenacious illness, and I now had just finished an hour of sharing what can be a very emotionally draining story. I sat on the edge of the stage, mentally reviewing my presentation, thinking about the response, and wondering if what I said had any effect. As the students were filing out of the auditorium, one of them walked up to me.
He leaned over toward me and said something quietly. Amid the noise and chaos of hundreds of students leaving, it was really hard to understand what he said. I asked him to repeat himself. He leaned closer and said, “I’m addicted to drugs. I need help.” The look in his eyes when he said it spoke volumes about what he was feeling. As he started to tear up, some other students had walked up to where we were. I distracted them long enough to allow him to compose himself. I vividly remembered what it would have been like to have my peers catch me crying at that age. This student had enough on his plate at the moment. I didn’t want him to have to worry about that as well.
I spoke with him for a couple minutes and commended him on his decision to come forward. “Why don’t we sit down and talk with your counselor about this,” I asked. “I know she’s willing and happy to help any of you. She told me that.” He was hesitant and I didn’t want him to lose his willingness to seek help, so I talked with him a bit longer.
Just then, another student came up. The first student pointed toward him and said, “He’s having trouble too.” I looked at the second student and he nodded in affirmation, adding, “I get high every day.” I had quickly gone from wondering if my story had any effect on these kids to knowing, without a doubt, that it did. There is little more concrete proof than what I was seeing and hearing.
After a few more minutes of speaking with them and encouraging them, they agreed to talk to their counselor. We walked over to her and I told her, “These guys have some concerns they need to talk to you about. Will you meet with them?” She immediately agreed, and thanked me a few times. I shook both of the students’ hands and told them, “This is a really good choice. I wish that when I was your age I had the intelligence and the guts to speak up like you just did. This was a brave thing to do. I have a lot of respect for both of you.”
As they were walking off, one of them turned around and said, “I have a lot of respect for you too.”
What an incredibly humbling and fulfilling day. I am truly grateful.
This is why I do it.