Students give standing ovation to 13-year-old speaker
By Elise Marlett, Current Staff
Walking into the auditorium, students were expecting a drug and alcohol presentation like any other, but were pleasantly surprised.
Juniors and seniors at the West Bend High Schools gathered Friday in the Silver Lining Arts Center to listen to a presentation given by Rise Together, a nonprofit organization that emphasizes the importance of mental well-being to prevent addiction. Originally founded in Appleton, Wisconsin, Rise Together is nationally acclaimed and WBHS was lucky enough to book them for an assembly free of charge as they were leaving the area.
West senior Frankie Breit was happy that the speakers did not spend the hour talking about types of drugs and how dangerous they are. He said this approach made the presentation more meaningful because the message was not redundant.
“They said we don’t want to tell you how bad drugs are because you have heard it so many times,” Breit said. “There are kids that do it and then the kids who know it’s bad, we’re not gonna do it, we don’t need to sit through it again. It was more than just drugs, it was anxiety and depression and anything like that. They also went in depth into the ways that (addiction) can affect your lives emotionally or mentally.”
Many students found this assembly to be more engaging than usual because it felt more relatable to teenagers of this day and age. East junior Kami McCardle said that it was astonishing to hear the stories of everyday people who have experienced addiction themselves or watched a loved one struggle.
“The most impactful part was how eye-opening it was and how many are affected by addictions and mental illness,” McCardle said.
After listening to a 13-year-old boy describe the emotional day when he came home to find his uncle had overdosed on heroin, students responded by giving him a standing ovation. West principal Ralph Schlass was not surprised when students felt compelled to support the speaker.
“I think we have a very compassionate student body,” Schlass said. “We’ve been bringing programs like this to West Bend for a long time and I’ve seen that happen before and it will happen again. I think our students are special and I was very, very happy to hear that our student body did that.”
McCardle hopes that the young speaker takes the standing ovation from the students as a thank you for his bravery.
“I think that was very important for him because it was a confidence builder and going up there and sharing his story was very brave,” McCardle said.
Schlass says that this assembly was crucial for youth to see that there is always someone to talk to and he hopes that students who are struggling will seek the help provided at the high schools.
“I think it’s just really important that these conversations are had so that people know that you’re not alone and there are resources and there are places you can go to get the help that you need,” Schlass said. “I think it’s critically important that we talk to other people and not hold that kind of pain inside. Talk to people at school, we’ll get you hooked up with community resources. Sometimes the best people to talk to don’t know you very well but they have the ability to not judge and to offer solutions to make you feel more whole again.”
A new resource at WBHS this year is the Youth Impact Club, a group dedicated to promoting mental wellness for students that had its first meeting last week.
Breit thinks that the relatability of Friday’s assembly will help students feel like their pain is acknowledged, which can motivate them to get the help they need rather than turn to drugs or worse.
“To know that there are more people out there and there’s many more options out there than just suicide,” Breit said. “There’s other places to go, there’s people there always, there’s someone that’s like you to relate to and there is someone there to listen.”
(Video: Nadine Machkovech of the nonprofit Rise Together told her story Friday to juniors and seniors in the Silver Lining Arts Center as part of a presentation about breaking the silence around issues such as suicide, drugs and alcohol. Video and photo by Elise Marlett, Current Staff.)