SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – October is National Bullying Prevention Month and on Monday – World Day of Bullying Prevention – the Grant School PTO sponsored a special school-wide assembly, welcoming former boxer and wrestling champion turned inspirational speaker Marc Mero and his ‘Dream Big’ tour to South Plainfield. 

Mero is founder of Champion of Choices, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering people to make healthy and positive choices. Through Champion of Choices, Mero’s goal is to inspire students to dream big, achieve goals and cherish relationships. By sharing personal highs and lows from his own life, Mero’s presentations deal with such serious issues as bullying, peer pressure, substance abuse and suicide prevention.

During his 45-minute presentation, Mero discussed the importance of dreams and goals, urging students to write them down and keep them in their sights.  “When I was young, I thought money and fame were the keys to happiness but the truth, and I am living proof, is that success is the key to happiness. And happiness is a choice,” Mero told the more than 560 Grant students present for Monday’s assembly, adding, “Go after your dreams and goals and you will not have regrets. When you stop dreaming, you stop living. Aim high. Aim big!”

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Mero also shared personal stories of tragedy and triumph, defeat and victory, inspiration and hope with the students.

Mero grew up in bad neighborhood in Upstate New York. His parents divorced when he was eight and his mother worked two jobs to make ends meet. Classmates often teased and bullied him, calling him a ‘bum’ because he wore clothes that were bought at garage sales. Dreaming of one day being rich and famous, Mero was just 10 years old when he began writing down his dreams and goals, which included becoming a millionaire, owning a black Cadillac, buying a home for his mother and becoming a professional athlete.

Although he achieved success, first in hockey and football, then as a 4-time New York State Boxing Champion and later as a WWE Wrestling Champion, along with many of the material things he desired, Mero admits he got sidetracked along the way, making choices that hurt him and those he loved the most. He got involved with the wrong crowd, did drugs and overdosed three times. His marriage ended, he lost 30 friends to drugs and/or suicide and his relationships with family members were strained. “It all came down to bad choices,” he said.

It wasn't until after the deaths of his mother, baby sister and younger brother that Mero realized something needed to change. “I threw everything away because of whom I chose to surround myself with. I hung out with losers and became the biggest loser of them all,” he said, adding, “Your friends are like elevators. They are either going to take you up or they are going to take you down. Show me your friends I will show you your future.”

Mero hopes that in sharing his story students will be inspired to treat others with respect. To those who may be struggling with something at home or at school, Mero encouraged them to reach out and seek help. “When you hold it inside it is like a volcano and sooner or later that volcano will erupt and many times it erupts in negative behavior – alcohol, drugs, hurting or bullying someone else or even thoughts of not wanting to be here because of the pain you are going through,” Mero said.

“Nobody can help you unless you tell someone. You have an amazing community here; an amazing group of teachers, faculty that care about you so much and parents that love you,” he added, reminding students, “You are not alone. You have a purpose. It gets better.”

Mero encouraged Grant students to ‘stand up, step up and speak up’ against bullying. “Make a change in your life today before it is too late and apologize to someone you may be hurting,” he said. “Ask yourself what will you do differently tomorrow that you didn't do today?”

Through Champion of Choices, Mero’s goal is to inspire students to dream big, achieve goals and cherish relationships. “My hope is that when you leave here today your life is forever changed in a positive way,” said Mero, adding that his passion for helping others stems from the experiences, successes and – he admits – choices, both good and bad, that he has made. “We are defined by the choices we make today,” he said. “We are all going to leave a legacy and my goal is to make a lasting impression on people’s lives.”

With his enthusiastic and engaging stories, heartfelt revelations and, where appropriate, comedic delivery, Mero captured his audience’s attention, his message resonating with students and adults alike. “You couldn't hear a peep in the auditorium when he was talking. There were tears, smiles and lots of applause,” PTO President Kristine Carbonaro said. “Marc Mero truly is an inspiration for students and staff.”

One fifth grader said, “I thought he was brave to share his story with all of us.” Another added, “I hope we all remember what he said and how important it is to treat ourselves and others better.”

Carbonaro added that in the three years she has served as PTO president no speaker has ever engaged students the way Mero did. “On behalf of the Grant School PTO, I want to thank Marc Mero for coming to the school and inspiring our students to make great choices in their lives,” she said. “He describes his story with vivid details and you can tell he really connected with the students."