Almost 20 years ago, I was part of core class training for The Freedoms Foundation, a beautiful sprawling campus right in the heart of historic Valley Forge, PA.
It was founded in 1949 by Dwight Eisenhower and its mission is to celebrate our responsibilities, and the freedoms we are afforded, as U.S. citizens.
My message of powerful fun was used to help young high school students understand how important their attitudes were to realizing their dreams.
Groups of high school students, from all over the country, won the privilege of traveling to Valley Forge to experience the birth of those freedoms. These were some of the brightest and best students in their junior and senior class. I’m proud to say that it was always a very diverse group and representative of our multicultural nation.
At the end of their first day on campus we gathered together in a classroom. It was always packed with over 40 students and overflowing with enthusiasm and excitement.
To this day, I remember these moments as some of the most memorable of all my speaking career.
I had to leverage all of my non-verbal skills and use a few presentation hacks to engage an age group that is hard to impress.
I loved that challenge, but my favorite time spent was when my presentation was over; when the students were excited to ask questions and interact with me.
Most evenings I headed home overwhelmed with feelings of joy and the promise held by big youthful dreams, but one evening I left frightened.
I had just finished a conversation with a young lady who was a high school senior from Florida.
She was so bubbly and filled with enthusiasm. Her face was joyful and her tone was excited as she asked if she could share something with me.
“Of course!” I said, as I had just finished a few other conversations and noticed her waiting patiently for what I assumed was a more private moment.
It wasn’t unusual because after hearing my presentation I always felt some trust was created between me and the students.
With a beaming smile she said, “Mr. Raymond, I wanted to let you know that recently I have been thinking a lot about suicide but now that I heard your talk, I don’t want to think about that anymore.”
The weight of her comment delivered by this vibrant teenager with a nonchalant tone, hit me hard. Using all of my energy not to non-verbally expose my shock, I asked her to do me a favor.
“Sure!” she said.
I said, “Please promise me that when you get home, you will find someone you trust, and tell them exactly what you just shared with me. Will you do that?”
“Sure,” she said again, waved goodbye and bounded down the hallway to join her friends.
I learned two very important lessons that evening: young people struggling can see suicide as an unemotional option without the gravity of permanence, and the power of timely messaging can save lives.
Let’s commit to use fun and engaging messaging as a lever to attract all of our community. Have them come and listen to a message that surprises and opens eyes to options that inspire vulnerability and confidence.
Confidence to share their struggles and ask for help. If we do this successfully, there will be a generation of people that will live to realize their dreams!