Friday, October 1, 2010

By Jesse Reilly, Staff Writer; Public Spirit, Willow Grove

While growing up Jeff Yalden was accustomed to abuse and alcoholism. He graduated 128th out of a class of 131 and was rejected from 16 of the 19 college he applied to. It took him nine years to complete his college degree.

But, he says, his surprising success wasn’t achieved by selling out but rather finding inward strength.

“Life is about choices, it’s about having a good attitude,” he told Hatboro-Horsham High School students Sept. 30. “But no person, no place or thing can give you what you can give yourself: self respect. Instead of waiting for other people to tell you you’re special, you’re smart or you’re athletic, tell that to yourself.”

Since his humble beginnings Yalden established a professional speaking career, wrote “They Call Me Coach” and contributed to the New York Times bestseller, “A Cup of Chicken Soup for the Soul.” He regularly appeared on MTV’s hit reality television show “Made.”

It’s that success that made Laurie Rosard, president of the district’s educational foundation that sponsored the event, think that his message might be a good one for students to hear.

“He is very engaging,” Rosard said of the speaker. “He relates very well to young people, he seems to speak their language while getting a message through to them.”

The messages he got across included dedication, hard work and the importance of purpose.

“Purpose is why you wake up in the morning. It’s your energy and your spirit. Purpose is something you never achieve,” he told the students. “If you don’t have purpose you are lost.”

Without it, Yalden continued, it becomes much easier for young people to make bad decisions.

To prevent bad decision making the speaker encouraged students to rely on people who are older, and probably wiser, than they are.

“Young people think we’ve never gone through what they are going through or see what they are seeing but we have,” he said. “At 17-years-old you think a breakup is the end of your life, but you’re just at the beginning of your life.”

Contrary to what the majority of the audience had probably been told or believed, Yalden said happiness was is not as important as righteousness.

“Your parents probably ask you if you’re happy, but I tell my two daughters I don’t care if they’re happy I want them to be good,” he said. “And doing the right thing doesn’t always make you happy.”

To keep the students on a straight path Yalden taught them the four T’s — take time to think.

Through personal stories Yalden encouraged students to be kind to their classmates, get involved in school activities, be more concerned with character than reputation and, as graduation approaches for some, to find something they enjoy doing.

“Follow your heart, don’t ever chase the money,” he said. “The money will come.”

Photography by Nancy Tirrell Paravano