Rob Hackenson pulled a ladder out of his bag and began taping pieces of paper to it. “High school” went on one rung, “college” on another, and then “job,” “family,” “retirement,” and “travel.”
It was, he told Williston Northampton students during an assembly on March 29, the general route that each one of them would take during the course of their lives.
“Each and every one of you have certain aspirations and things you want to obtain,” Mr. Hackenson said. “Certain decisions can help you attain them, and certain things can make them much more difficult.”
Mr. Hackenson, motivational speaker and founder of Dynamic Influence, has been delivering presentations on cyber safety, sobriety, and bullying prevention since 2004. After a group of Williston students saw Mr. Hackenson at the inaugural Youth Conference on Preventing Underage Drinking last year, a conference sponsored by District Attorney David F. Sullivan P’08 ’10, they asked that Mr. Hackenson be brought in to speak to the entire school.
Using a brand of what he called “edu-tainment,” Mr. Hackenson mixed stage magic and audience participation to talk about the dangers of underage drinking and drug use. On a easel at the front of the chapel, Mr. Hackenson outlined some of the potential consequences of such behavior—hurting others, getting sick, losing sight of what was important, and death—and the excuses that might lead to drinking or drugs—relieving stress, fitting in, peer pressure, having fun, curiosity.
Mr. Hackenson spun a large, striped disk, which caused audience members to experience the momentary optical illusion that his head was either shrinking or growing. He pointed back to the board.
“They’re not reasons, they’re excuses. It’s an illusion,” he said. “The biggest illusion of all is that it’s never going to happen to me.”
Mr. Hackenson urged students to continue making good decisions, to always be mindful of the consequences, and to remember that every choice they made also affected other people.
“It doesn’t matter how many good decisions you’ve made so far, the good decisions have to continue,” he said. “Is it worth the risk?”
The next school assembly speakers will be Rachel Simmons and Chris Overtree on April 12. Ms. Simmons is the author of Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, and The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence. She works internationally to reduce bullying and create empowerment among young women. Mr. Overtree is director of the Psychological Services Center (PSC) at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and is an expert on the prevention of bullying and harassment.
For this special assembly, Mr. Overtree and Ms. Simmons will speak to the boys and girls separately. In the Williston Theatre, Mr. Overtree will speak to the boys about how to become “a man” in today’s society, engage in appropriate actions, and be responsible for what one does. Ms. Simmons will speak to the girls in the Phillips Stevens Chapel about female adolescence and empowerment.