Monday, May 06, 2013

America's Youth: A Call to Character

On Monday, May 6, 2013, I returned to Fort Lee High School in New Jersey to address over 450 freshman and sophomores. This initiative began in 2010 through the leadership of a dedicated teacher, Carol Burghardt, as supported by the Fort Lee Education Association.

This year, I delivered my signature presentation for high school youth titled Be a Person of Character: Change the World. It covered contemporary issues of American students based on real events and encouraged a life of character as presented at the school in 2010:

America's Youth: Transforming the Nation through Character

On Monday and Tuesday, May 10 and 11, 2010 an initiative that crystallized the importance of renewing character education took place for over 1,000 students of Fort Lee High School in Bergen County, New Jersey.

As the speaker for the event, I was privileged to address every student of the high school with a program titled Generation of Hope: Be a Person of Character. The program was delivered separately in assemblies for each grade from freshmen through seniors. It was modified for each venue due to the different social and emotional dynamics of each group.

Through an honest assessment of contemporary concerns in the nation, indicated by the collision courses of corruption, violence, broken families, alcohol/substance abuse, driving under the influence tragedies and toxic relationships, the program challenged the students to influence America, one person at a time, by living a life of character.

Recent headlines, very familiar to the students, were identified and evaluated including:

  • The murder of Yale student Annie Le, whose body was found on what should have been her wedding day
  • The "Suicide by Bullying" tragedy of Phoebe Prince from South Hadley, Massachusetts
  • The sexting incident that led to the death of 18 year-old Jessie Logan from Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Megan Meier's loss of life due to a cyber-bullying MySpace hoax. Megan committed suicide by hanging herself just prior to her 14th birthday
  • Michael Brewer,15, set on fire after been doused with rubbing alcohol by three teens, ages 13, 15 and 16 in Broward County, Florida, after a stolen bicycle incident. Over 65% of Michael's body was burned
  • The shocking murder of lacrose player Yeardley Love at the University of Virginia
  • The brutal "text rage" beating into a coma of teenager Josie Lou Ratley. Josie spent 41 days in the hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and had 3 surgeries

In light of these recent tragedies, the presentation emphasized that by living a life of character, communities of hope can be cultivated and each student has the power to change the world by helping others do what is right. Being a person of character in all our actions, including the manner in which we express ourselves through Online social networking and texting was highlighted. The positive contributions being made throughout the country by young students as documented in the CNN special Young People Who Rock were utilized as a call to action, including:

  • Elizabeth Torres--a national speaker who tells students, "We won't stumble. We've come to save the world."
  • Brittany Merrill--started a non-profit to help Uganda's poor, raising $800,000 in donations and also opened an orphanage for 180 children in Texas.
  • Aaron Fotheringham--born with spina bifida but extreme sports competitor and champion
  • Sadiya Buta--came to the U.S. from war torn Somalia; star tennis player with perfect GPA
  • Taraje Williams Murray--a four time national judo champion with 16 hour training days
  • Matt Cerner--founded sports clinic for children of special needs, working with 100 special needs kids and their families
  • Winnie Phan--started Safe Walk Program with older students mentoring younger students afraid of walking to schools in troubled neighborhoods

The call to action was also inflamed as inspired by the life of Rachel Scott, the first student killed at Columbine. Rachel's example of kindness and compassion--coupled with the contents of her 6 diaries which have become the foundation of a life changing character education program for American schools--was warmly received by the students.

As with all of my presentations, the event concluded with a tribute to the American Military who serve our nation in harm's way, allowing us our liberty and freedom.

The entire Fort Lee High School community deserves commendation for their dedication to this character education initiative. A special commendation is deserving of Teacher Carol Burghardt whose leadership and vision led to the success of the event. The Fort Lee Education Foundation is also deserving of recognition for their generous support of this program.


Fort Lee High School Click here to visit site
Fort Lee Education Foundation Click here to visit site
CNN-Young People Who Rock Click here to visit site

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