Destiny; a matter of choice. Speaker talks to students about drinking and driving

April 23, 2014
Speaker Robert Anastas with MCE student Cody Smith.

Speaker Robert Anastas with MCE student Cody Smith.

Story and photos by Lisa Enos. MCP Correspondent.

CUSTER — One third of all alcohol-related traffic fatalities in the U.S. involving teens occur during the months of April, May and June — prom and graduation season. With so many parties that often times include alcohol consumption, spring can be a dangerous time of year for teens. To that end, as a way of raising awareness, local beer wholesaler Ludington Beverage Company sponsored a speaker to address the students of Manistee, Mason County Eastern and Pentwater high schools Wednesday.

Robert Anastas talks with MCE and Pentwater students in Custer.

Robert Anastas talks with MCE and Pentwater students in Custer.

“It’s our way of giving back to the community,” said Ludington Beverage president and owner Willie Reed.

Nationally recognized author and motivational speaker Robert Anastas talked about the tragic events that led up to his founding of SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions). Anastas was an All-American football and hockey player as a youth in Massachusettes who carried his winning attitude into his teaching career, earning the Masachusettes Teacher of the Year Award. He strived to bring out the best in the students he taught and coached; mentoring them through tough times, and always tried to put the ones who were going down the wrong road on the right road, he said.

It all came to a head in the spring of 1981 when a football player on the team he coached had a drink for the first time at a graduation party. Two beers later the 17 year old boy was flying down the highway at 75 miles an hour. He hit a patch of fog and ran into a tree, an accident which ended the boy’s life. His teammate died four days later, when, after the wake, he and a buddy decided to go drink some beers on Cape Cod, an hour away. The second boy, who was 19 at the time, never made it home. They both fell asleep in the car on the way home and got in a car accident.

This hit Anastas hard– two deaths within four days, of kids he had been mentoring since seventh and eighth grade.

“When I lost my two guys I had to search my soul and say, ‘What in God’s name is happening?'” Anastas told the students at MCE about a pivotal moment in his life– his first invitation to speak to kids about the subject. He was flown from Boston to a big high school in Louisiana where there was a raucous crowd of kids who weren’t engaged in what the previous speakers were trying to tell them; that underage drinking is illegal, that it kills brain cells and that it can cause cirrhosis of the liver and have other psychological and physical effects on the brain and body.

Anastas could see that approach wasn’t getting through the kids’ heads.

“You think that’s going to frighten you?” he asked the MCE students in his Boston accent.  “No. You’ll say, ‘wrong, place, wrong time….” Anastas explained he decided to take a different approach; to teach kids to aim high.

“I’ve watched this work for 25 years. Someone in this room will take it in. If you’re on the wrong road, watch, I’m going to put you on the right road,” he said.

Anastas went on to tell the students that there are 27,000 high schools in the nation, which means there are 27,000 valedictorians, 27,000 class presidents giving the graduation day speech.

Robert Anastas

Robert Anastas

“I don’t care if you’re from the best school in America. No one needs you. No one has to give you an academic scholarship. No one needs you. Have I got you depressed yet?”

People are divided into two groups, Anastas said. Seventy-five percent fall into a group that isn’t going to succeed. These people are the followers, not leaders, they’re the procrastinators, they’re the people who blame everyone for everything and make excuses. These 75 percent are going to go out and do drugs and drink and they’re going to have low self esteem.

He said successful people know how to take their weakness and make them their strength.

“Every one of you can do this.

“The 25 percent are leaders, they are not followers. When the booze shows up at a party, they’re the ones who say, ‘I’m leaving.'”

They will run when the other guy walks. They will address people with respect, and say, yes, sir, no sir,; They sleep when the other guy goes out to party and drink; They compete with no one but themselves; and they will stay alcohol and drug free because they have a lot of pride in themselves.

You’re either going to be in the 75 or the 25

Your destiny is not a matter of chance, it’s a matter of choice.

If you do not choose the 25% you will leave the all American inside of you. Take the blame on your own shoulders. I’m going to take this and I’m going to move to the 25 percent and have a great future.

Bob Anastas is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Commission for the Prevention of Alcoholism and Drug Dependency, and was the recipient of the Massachusetts Teacher of the Year Award and the National Commission Against Drunk Driving Humanitarian Award, among others. A television movie dramatizing his life broadcast on both CBS and HBO, and he has addressed more than two million students in thousands of high schools and colleges throughout the country.

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