Thursday, June 11, 2009

Just Say NO is not enough

Today Mamaroneck High School held a day of speakers, workshops, and fun for graduating seniors. I was there because I led two workshops on "Avoiding the Freshman Fifteen". Attendance seemed good, in no small part because of the dreary weather, I am sure. But those of us who went, were lucky enough to hear Bernie McGrenahan give his rolicking routine on the perils of college partying.

Standing on the auditorium stage with only a water bottle and a mike for props, Bernie took us on a roller coaster ride through his blurry, high, highschool years and then on to college where he partied and drank excessively, and was arrested for DWI twice. His storytelling is brilliant, and people laugh, sometimes embarassed at laughing at such a terrible tale.

Bernie painfully tells about his younger brother's struggle with alcohol and depression and ultimate suicide. And about his other brother, Sean, who is mentally retarded and completely lovable. After a six month jail term for a third DWI, Bernie gave up drinking and drugs and has been clean for 21 years.

The power in Bernie's story is in its humor but also in his keen awareness of what adolescent drinking is really like. He sends caveats to kids about drinking and driving (Don't even think of it!), how to plan ahead on how much drinking to do, how to get home and with whom("No means No when it comes to the ladies") and about warning signs that they might be troubled drinkers (you cannot stick to your plan for the evening, you are skipping class, you are losing friends, you cannot stop drinking once you start, you get angry at the suggestion that you should cut down, and you lose track of what is "normal" drinking).

Bernie is spending the summer talking to the military overseas about decision making and I am sure just making them laugh and feel appreciated. In the Fall he will resume his gig at colleges and high schools around the country. His website is HappyHourComedy. I highly recommend him to any school or college administrator or counsellor trying to reach adolescents and young adults.

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