John F. Kennedy’s energy, youth, and optimism greatly inspired both my mother and father. John Kennedy gave hope to a world that was going through trying times. Like my parents, I can look back and see the many things that inspired me: I was a peer counselor at my school and through a special program I assisted in teaching English to foreign students. But even with my interest in serving others, I was unprepared for what I saw when I got to college. I saw students all around me not only endangering their lives, but the lives of innocent people as well. How could this possibly be? College students gambling with human lives? Unfortunately, it’s true. And the killer is alcohol. Specifically, drinking and driving.
All of us in this room are aware of the dangers of alcohol on their mind and body. But unfortunately, far too many of our nation’s youth are either unaware, or they choose to ignore the evil side of alcohol. The statistics are overwhelming. Over 2.6 million Americans have died in traffic crashes, 1.5 million more than were killed in all the wars in U.S. history. But the greater tragedy to these figures is that alcohol related traffic crashes are the number one killer of 16 to 24 year-olds. The youth of our communities are falling victim to one of the most insidious killers on the planet, alcohol and driving. In a poll of 4,000 high school students, 45% of the seniors admitted to using alcohol when they drive. And if these terrible figure are not enough to break your heart, the number one killer of teenagers continues to be drinking and driving.
Is drinking and driving something to be concerned about? Absolutely. But the good news is, there is reason for hope. Hope has existed in the hearts of members of the W.C.T.U. since your organization first began. And now, as we approach the next millennium, hope is being spread to college campuses in the form of one of the fastest growing, and most influential organizations to ever get the attention of American’s youth. The organization is SADD, (Students Against Driving Drunk). SADD was created shortly after MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) and was founded in 1980 as an attempt to reach the youth of America. I’m sure you are familiar with the story of Candy Lightner. Candy Lightner’s 13-year-old daughter was killed by a hit and run drunk driver who was released from jail only two days after her death. On the very same day of his release, Candy’s daughter’s killer got drunk again and caused another crash. This man was neither sent to prison or jail, but to a halfway house. A child dies needlessly, a killer goes free, but from this tragedy, two organizations rose to stand beside the W.C.T.U in an attempt to provide hope for the future and most importantly to save lives.
John Kennedy believed that the future held hope. He genuinely believed that problems could be solved. His words have inspired me and moved me to action. I started a chapter of SADD at my college and the interest, support, and membership has been overwhelming. Our advisor says that a day rarely goes by without inquires about SADD and its movement to save lives.
Alcohol kills, this we all know. Driving on our city streets can likewise kill, but the combination of drinking and driving is nothing short of inviting a disaster. When young people mix drinking and driving, the results are catastrophic. And, organizations like the W.C.T.U., SADD, and MADD have helped diminish the number of drinking and driving crashes. Since 1975 tougher laws have saved thousands of lives. It is estimated that by the year 1997, over 13,000 lives will have been saved because of SADD and MADD’s fight to stop drunk driving. Our efforts to stiffen the age on purchasing alcohol and ultimately stop drinking alcohol is working. The goal is to promote abstinence, because we know it is through abstinence that we have the best chance to really save lives.
Those of us who are in association with the W.C.T.U. through membership, moral support, or even participation in activities like this oratory contest, know that abstinence is the only sure path to eliminating the devastation caused by alcohol. Our beliefs allow me to turn to my fellow college students and show by my words, and my example, that tomorrow can be better than today if we get involved in organizations such as SADD and believe in the promise of Galatians 6, “That in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” The task appears overwhelming but I believe we can make a difference. We can save lives.
Do organizations such as SADD and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union have an impact on the youth of our community? The answer to that lies in the words of John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address. As he spoke of all the issues confronting the American people, the list seemed never-ending. But he then said these words, ” These tasks will not be finished in the first 100 days, nor in the first 1,000 days, nor even in our lifetime on this planet. We will not finish, but let us begin.” Members and supporter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, our task seems insurmountable, we will not finish, but let us begin.
Note. This was an award-winning speech spoken in Hollywood, on Sunset Blvd., to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. After 1997, SADD was renamed Students Against Destructive Decisions.