MONTVILLE, NJ – When discussing the value of the Living Lessons presentations at Lazar Middle School on Wednesday, May 18, eighth grader Katie DeAngelis said it well, “When you are at an all-time low, there is always hope.”
And hope was the theme of many, if not all, of the 50 speakers who spoke at the event.
The Living Lessons program: Voices, Visions and Values occurs at Lazar Middle School every other year which gives students an opportunity to hear speakers on diverse, challenging and touching stories designed for their grade level.
Judy Gothelf, Living Lessons chairperson, and Derek Lynn, Living Lessons co-chairperson, spent over a year preparing for the event.
Gothelf explained, “It is my greatest hope that every child and adult who saw the Living Lessons program will take the messages that were delivered by each one of our 50 speakers and learn and grow from them, learn how to treat others, and learn that despite our differences, we are still all human beings who need to embrace each other and be accepting of those differences. My hope too is that each person gained a better understanding of the fact that no matter the challenges they face in life that they too can work hard to overcome them.”
One of the presenters at the seventh biennial Living Lessons program was Jacy Good, who encouraged the students to "hang up and drive."
Good had just graduated from Muhlenburg College and was on her way to the rest of her life. Driving home with her parents to celebrate with her fiancé Steve Johnson, she called from a gas station 45 minutes from her home to update him that they were almost home. Unfortunately they didn’t make it home.
A young driver was talking on his cell phone at a T-intersection along Good’s route. Even though he had a red light, he turned left in front of a tractor-trailer which swerved into the Goods’ car to avoid hitting the errant driver.
Good’s parents were both killed; she lay in a coma for two weeks. Her brother had to hold funerals and make decisions while she lay in the hospital.
“That first night in the hospital, they gave me a one in ten chance that she would survive,” Johnson remembered. Chillingly, the pair was speaking at Lazar on the anniversary of the 2008 crash.
Good described the rough path to recuperating from a traumatic brain injury, a lacerated liver, a broken foot, and many other severe injuries. After many months of rehabilitation, she was finally released to her parents’ home – which was empty of her parents. Further, she still does not have full use of her limbs and has lingering cognitive issues.
Good blames the other driver’s use of a cell phone.
“People think that it’s safe to drive and talk on a cell phone, even hands-free, but it’s not,” she told the eighth graders who attended her sessions. “They sell cars with Bluetooth systems with the implication that it’s safe to talk, but you are distracted. You cannot do two things at the same time. People call it multi-tasking but that’s a false word. It’s ‘toggle tasking.’ You are only concentrating on one thing at a time. And if one of them is driving, you had better be giving it your full attention.”
Good and Johnson said that more than 300 studies have been performed which show that talking on the phone while driving is not safe.
“We’ve been misled,” Good said. “The science does not back this up. Conversations with someone who is not in your line of sight are not safe.”
Good and Johnson said that they have lobbied in their home state of Pennsylvania and even at the United Nations, hoping for legislation against the use of hands-free telephone systems in cars, and they said that several countries have even banned them. Oprah Winfrey has featured the stories of these victims, they said, but little has resulted.
“We know what we need to do, but we struggle to do it,” Good said. “There is nothing on the phone more important than a human life. For me, there are no excuses.”
Johnson encouraged students to ask drivers to hang up and drive, which is the name of the couple’s website.
“Have the courage to ask the driver to let it go to voicemail,” he said. “You won’t know if you’ve saved a life, but it’s possible.”
“One of these ripples hasn’t touched your community yet, but it’s only a matter of time,” Good said. “You get this opportunity every day to make a change by telling drivers to not talk on the phone while they’re driving.”
Over the course of the day of Living Lessons presentations, sixth-grader Gabriella Giudice attended lectures by a person who had epilepsy yet played in the MBA, a holocaust survivor, and someone who came out as gay in front of many at the same time.
“I thought it was amazing to see how all these speakers overcame the hardships they faced,” she said. “I learned to follow what I believe in, be accepting and never discriminate against people for who they are.”