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May 30, 2009

Hope Academy Baccalaureate Address May 31, 2009

I was extremely honored to be invited to offer the baccalaureate address to the 2009 graduating class of Hope Academy, the only recovery high school in the State of Indiana.


"Thank you Rachelle so very much and thank you Class of 2009 for the honor you do our family in allowing us to play this small part in the joyous occasion of your graduation from Hope Academy.  As many of you know Hope has been near and dear to Marissa and my hearts since before its inception.  In 2001 our son David was one of the millions of adolescents across this country that left treatment centers for drug addiction only to return to the same friends, the same school and the same behaviors.  The results were tragic for his friends, his family and most of all for him.  In the years after his death we shared the dream with many others here at Fairbanksof a recovery high school that would support young adults early in their journey of sobriety.  Many who worked tirelessly to make Hope the reality that it is today are here with us tonight and deserve our gratitude. 

So whenever Marissa and I visit the school and especially tonight at this baccalaureate we see David not only in your eyes but also in the hope of your hearts for all that is to come and all that is now possible for you.  David of course is here with us today in spirit.  But I know that if he were on the stage with me tonight….he would want to lean over to the microphone and say….

“Whazzup Fools!!!!!!”


Again let me say that we are humbled by your kindness in asking me to speak tonight and I pledge to repay that kindness by being brief in my remarks.  The remarks will be in two parts…the first will some thoughts about our spiritual journey through 12 Step recovery and the second portion will be a bit  more traditional. 


To begin the evening Marissa and I would like to present each of you a token of our gratitude, a red-tailed hawk feather that exemplifies our spiritual connection to Hawks,. That connection began the day after David died when a friend who had lost a son three years before came to both console and to mentor us in the days of grieving that lay ahead.  She shared many valuable insights with us not the least of which was the suggestion that we select a symbol for our son, something that when we would encounter it would never fail to bring his spirit close to us.  Over the next two days I had close encounters with Red Tailed Hawks, the first on the way to the church to plan David’s funeral and the second as I stopped at the Fire Station to thank the ambulance crew who had come that day and worked so valiantly to save David’s life.   Hawks had always been a favorite of David’s and so the message was clear hawks should be our symbol for him.  In the ensuing years as I too embarked on my own journey of recovery from addiction we have learned much about hawks from Native Americans lore and have discovering some incredible similarities between hawks and 12 Step Recovery along the way.


Indians believe that Hawks are visionaries and messengers. They help to open our minds and our eyes so that we may hear and see the visions and messages that the Great Spirit (or our Higher Power) is sending our way. Native American’s believe that there is never a moment when the Great Spirit/Higher Power is not trying to get a message through to us but we are often too busy or preoccupied with temporal problems to receive them. 


The messages Hawks bring are about freeing ourselves of thoughts and beliefs that limit our abilities to soar above our lives and gain greater perspective on it. Indians believe that while we remain earthbound, then the possibilities of life are limited! But if we soar high above we catch a glimpse of the bigger picture which is why Hawks are held in such esteem.


In the same vein 12 Step Recovery helps us to become more like hawks by giving us the vision and clarity to see the world in a way others cannot.  With recovery we are better able to soar like hawks above anger, resentment and fear thus freeing us from our day to day problems.  And like hawks, recovery allows us to hear, see and feel the wisdom from our higher power that helps us better serve others. 




Tonight’s Baccalaureate and your coming Commencement are truly a time of celebration.  But leaving High School behind and heading to college or moving into the workforce can also be a time of apprehension and uncertainty about what the future will bring.  As long as you are in school, grades and test results measure your accomplishments.  You had a pretty good idea of what is expected of you and where you stand.  But once you leave High School, you will have to rely more on your Higher Power, the Power that will guide you in a world undergoing ceaseless and tumultuous change.  Yes….you will have the benefit of every electronic and time saving device that mind of man or woman can conceive of, you will twitter and text to your hearts content.  But…..you will be so busy using these tools; you will hardly have a moment to think.


When I was your age….and how many times have you heard your parents tell you that????…we thought the world was a simpler place.  My class of 1970 had a relatively more uniform sense of identity and a more common view of what our country was about and what the forces were, that opposed us.  But for you, the Class of 2009, the world is a much more complex place.  Certainly the United States is without equal in it the power and influence that it wields through out the globe.  But the forces that oppose us today are more indistinct and unclear than ever before.  We are opposed by a faceless and fanatical world-wide terrorism, we are opposed by grinding poverty that affect over 70 percent of the world, we are opposed by centuries old religious and ethic strife in every corner of the globe, and finally, as if that wasn’t already enough, I believe we are opposed by rampant intolerance that threatens the very fabric of our civilization.

After two world wars, the Holocaust, multiple genocides and countless conflicts, we really must ask ourselves how long it will be before we are able to rise above the national, racial and gender distinctions that divide us, and in doing so ultimately embrace the common humanity that binds us together.  The answer depends not on our stars or some mysterious force of history or nature; it depends on the choices that you, The Class of 2009, will make.  And never was there a class that was more prepared and poised to meet the challenges that this world, and your future holds for you.


In the years to come some of you may lift the lives of others through your capacity to teach. 

Others of you may save lives through your ability to heal. 

Some of you may create opportunity through business enterprises.

Some of you may build homes, buildings, highways.

Some of you may move goods across the country.

Some of you may enrich the lives of us all through your accomplishments in science and law.

Some of you may nurture others…..

And some of you may give comfort to others.


But I hope that whatever you choose to do, that you will all be bound together by a common spirit of service to others, a common goal of caring for your fellow inhabitants of this world, and a common dream of reaching out to those who are less fortunate than you, and in doing so

lift them up to the light of self-respect,

lift to them to the light of freedom from want,

and most of all lift them to the light of love.


This evening, at this ceremony of warm memory and high expectations, I ask you to do this…..that in the coming years you will embrace the faith that

Every challenge surmounted by your energy;

Every problem solved by your wisdom;

Every soul stirred by your passion;

And every barrier to justice brought down by your determination;

Every one of these will ennoble your own life, will inspire others to do the same, and by doing so will explode the boundaries of what is achievable on this earth.


If you remember nothing else about what I have shared with you tonight just remember this….the real purpose of life is to live a life of purpose.


I close tonight with a verse that has become a kind of mantra for Marissa, Josh, Angie and me since David’s death.  Some of you already know it.  It’s a popular verse but it really sums up our family’s feelings tonight and our wish for all of you in the years to come.

It goes….

Some people come into our lives and all too quickly go.

Some people move our souls to dance.

They awaken us to new understandings with the passing whisper of their wisdom.

Some people make the sky more beautiful to gaze upon.

They stay in our lives for a while; they leave footprints on our hearts,

And we are never, ever the same again.

 Dave left footprints on our hearts,

You, the Class of 2009, in turn have left footprints on ours and many other hearts,

But Now it is time for you to go out and leave footprints on the heart of the world.


God Speed Class of 2009"

May 30, 2009 at 05:22 PM in The Odyssey | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 20, 2009

Far From the Madding Crowd

I recently came across this fragment of a note that I wrote to now unknown friends in those early days after Davids death from addiction  and the ensuing funeral.  It was a time when the rest of the world returned to their daily routine while our world was still rent asunder.  As I read my words today the emotions come rushing back and yet I marvel at how prophetic they were.  The tools for our recovery were indeed within our hands but it would take many months and years before they were instilled in our hearts. 


June 2001 

Now that the rituals are concluded and the chorus of expressions of sorrow and comfort has quieted, the silence of our home is sometimes soothing and at other times deafening as we struggle with the conundrum of why we grieve for a soul set free. We are beginning to respond to the incredible outpouring of caring and affection and your notes to us were among the very first that helped assuage our pain. 


We are doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances.  Ironically it appears that the knowledge and coping strategies we learned while working through the substance abuse program David was enrolled in, have given us the tools and a framework to come to terms with his decision and its tragic consequences.  And while it didn't seem to work for him it has worked for us.


As I may have indicated, once we do the things that are required either by custom or by law, we plan to go away for a while.  I had suggested to Marissa that we go to my Dad's condo in Sedona Arizona but she has indicated that she needs the ocean to heal her.  We had promised Dave a trip to the Caribbean for "Fall Break" if he kept on track with his studies and his recovery.  It is a promise we have decided to keep albeit a bit sooner and sadder than we have planned.  We will try and find a place "Far from the Madding Crowd" where we can begin our healing in anonymity.  Not the usual high profile resort.....any suggestions you might have in that regard would be most welcome.


We so appreciate your kinds thoughts and prayers and I also thank you for remembering Marissa's love of Hydrangeas. The plant is beautiful and will be a wonderful addition to her garden.

We love you both very much and the next time your son returns  for a visit hold him tight and hug him and tell him that you love him...do that for yourselves and for us.



May 20, 2009 at 03:43 PM in The Odyssey | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 16, 2009

The War On Drugs

The word came today that the War has ended.  A war that the United States has been engaged in longer than World War I or II.  Longer than the Korean or Vietnam wars and yes longer than the latest quagmire that Iraq has become.  The end of the war was greeted with scant fanfare, no ticker tape parades, no joyous throngs crowding city centers and no banner headlines trumpeting the end of a long and dark national nightmare.   

The War on Drugs was declared in 1969 by President Richard Nixon and for the past 40 years this conflict has affected millions of people across the globe and cost tens of thousands of lives.  Even though hostilities ended this past week hundreds of thousands are still prisoners of this war in jails and correctional institutions all over the world.  The financial cost of prosecuting the war to date has been in the trillions of dollars…..but of course the human toll is incalculable.

This campaign was undertaken by the Government of the United States with assistance of participating countries to reduce the illegal drug trade and curb the supply of substances that were deemed “immoral, harmful or undesirable.”  Other than the inference that those who used or abused illegal substances were they themselves immoral, harmful and undesirable little or no attempt was made to approach addiction as a disease or enhance treatment opportunities for those who suffer from it.  The philosophy that cutting off the supply would reduce the demand was hopelessly flawed from the beginning; consequently the war was doomed from the beginning.   And as we witnessed in Vietnam and Iraq flawed philosophies and policies lead to ineffectual efforts, tragic results and failure.  And the War on Drugs was indeed a colossal failure of money, and the more important, precious human capital it squandered.

So when the new White House Drug Czar announced the end of the War on Drugs this week it was noteworthy that he ushered in a new era of focusing on the treatment of addiction and the sustaining of recovery for those who suffer from the disease.  

Perhaps now we can get on the important work of treating the disease like the public health crisis it is and at the same time begin to address the depressing state of adolescent and adult treatment in America.

May 16, 2009 at 03:16 PM in The Odyssey | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack