For nearly two hours this morning in the spectator gym of Wawasee High School, well known youth motivational speaker Jeff Yalden emptied his heart in an attempt to touch the hearts of WHS students. To do so, he used a combination of plain talking, real life stories, everyday family life, passionate encouragement and humor.
Yalden, known by many as the “life coach” on the MTV reality show “MADE,” was invited to speak to WHS students by the school’s principal, Don Harman. The school has experienced the devastation of two student suicides within roughly a two month period.
For more than 20 years, Yalden, from Cape Cod, Mass., has traveled nationally and internationally speaking to teens and college age students. He addressed the WHS student body in the morning, spent time with the students during the day and will be speaking to the general public at 7 p.m. this evening, also at the high school.
Bald, wearing blue jeans and a casual shirt and also earrings, tattoos and a longer form of a chin patch beard, he told the students they would judge him much differently if he had hair and wore a suit and tie. “We spend too much time worrying about what people think of us,” he said, a point he would emphasize throughout his message.
Yalden said he overcame a lot just to graduate from high school. He had learning disabilities, suffered from stuttering and was 128th out of 133 students in his graduating class. “I was rejected by 16 of the 19 colleges I applied to,” he added, and eventually he joined the Marine Corps.
He stressed to the students they should “take time to think” (the four T’s he would refer to often) about the choices they make and have the right attitude. “Yes, attitude is important,” he emphasized. “I smile everyday, not because I’m happy, but because I’m grateful for all the little things I see.” He said he still deals with depression and anxiety and finds it challenging some mornings just to get out of bed.
Yalden challenged the students to think about where disappointment really comes from. He said too many have unrealistic expectations “that need to be dropped.”
To prove his point, he asked several students if, when they come to school each morning, they expect to be respected by others. Most said they don’t. “The intention should be to give respect every day, because if you give it, you will get it back,” he said.
He said positive objectives should be focused upon and to get rid of the numerous expectations. “It really will be OK, but you have to believe it and move forward,” he noted.
To illustrate his points, Yalden often spoke about his own family. He shared candidly about receiving a phone call one day from his ex-wife while he was speaking at a youth camp in Grand Rapids, Mich. She told him she had left their two daughters at an airport and he needed to pick them up right away or they would be homeless. He took the first available flight and met his daughters at the airport.
He recalled he developed a deep respect for his wife’s grandfather, 95 years old, who was a man of few words “but when he spoke, you listened to what he said.” The elderly man said the three most powerful words to tell someone are “I love you” and the most courageous words are “I’m sorry.”
Yalden said people should be more like dogs because dogs are forgiving and love unconditionally. “Why can’t we learn to love like that?” he asked.
He noted too much in life is taken for granted including moments spent with parents, teachers, friends and also relationships. And, he emphasized, everyone regardless of their age “needs acceptance.” And, he added, love is spelled “time.”
Yalden encouraged the student body to ask themselves three important questions: Is my life meaningful? Is my life fulfilling? Is my life rewarding? Students should look at themselves in the mirror each morning and tell themselves they are valuable and can accomplish their goals in life. “The only thing really stopping you is yourself,” he told the students.
If they are hurting, he encouraged the students to tell somebody.
Yalden, who interacted often with the student body, strongly encouraged the students to watch an 11-minute video of former college basketball coach Jim Valvano. About two months prior to dying of cancer, Valvano spoke at an ESPN television awards banquet despite barely having enough strength to stand. “It is the greatest motivational speech you will ever hear,” Yalden said.
Yalden will speak to the general public this evening at 7 p.m. at Wawasee High School. He will also be speaking to Warsaw Community High School students on Friday. WCHS has suffered one teen suicide this year.