Lighting a bonfire in children’s imaginations

  • The El Tejon School assembly with Jeremy Staat was so exciting to some teachers that one rushed photos to the newspaper that same afternoon. [Photo by Nicole Francus de Leeuw]

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    The El Tejon School assembly with Jeremy Staat was so exciting to some teachers that one rushed photos to the newspaper that same afternoon. [Photo by Nicole Francus de Leeuw]

  • After a presentation at Frazier Park School, members of the Boys & Girls Club and staff talked: (back, l-r) Cristal Vivirito, Kristina Graves, Jeremy Staat, Sedona Vivirito, Ashley Barrie, Destiny Nunez (front) Alyssa Rutland, Olga Meza, Zachery Barrie and Danielle Flavin[Photo by Patric Hedund for The Mountain Enterprise]

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    After a presentation at Frazier Park School, members of the Boys & Girls Club and staff talked: (back, l-r) Cristal Vivirito, Kristina Graves, Jeremy Staat, Sedona Vivirito, Ashley Barrie, Destiny Nunez (front) Alyssa Rutland, Olga Meza, Zachery Barrie and Danielle Flavin[Photo by Patric Hedund for The Mountain Enterprise]

Comment by Patric Hedlund, Editor The Mountain Enterprise

Good ideas told in a story that touches the heart have a way of generating heat, light and magnetism. Ok, I admit I haven’t seen a doctoral thesis on this process yet—or seen a theory to explain how subatomic quantum particles in the human imagination become activated by the gravitational fields created by a good story—but last week local school kids felt this principle in action.

They flocked around guest speaker Jeremy Staat—a 6 foot-six inch former NFL player and former U.S. Marine—as if he was a bonfire lit in the midst of a vast darkness. They listened attentively to words that would make their eyes glaze over and the volume on their ear buds spike if uttered by their moms or teachers.

“Be amazing!” is the advice Ashley and Zack Barrie carried away from Staat’s talk with the Boys & Girls Club Wednesday afternoon, April 3. “That means, ‘try hard,’” Ashley explained. “Go Big or Go Home!” Sedona Vivirito, 11 chimed in, telling her own favorite take-away message.

Charisma counts. When a real-live action figure stands up to say, “stay in school, no one can take your education away from you” and tells how a bad decision made today “will come back to haunt you in five years—you have to live with the bad grades you made today for the rest of your life,” it gets the kids’ attention. Staat also said to walk away from the violent video games. Students were drawn to share their own concerns.

“I apologize to the kids;” Staat says, “their generation is going to have to clean up the messes that we’ve made.”

He talked about bullying others to try to make yourself feel better, about his own mistakes in drinking and the relationship between kids’ obesity and video games. He began joking with Miles Vivirito whose sister teased him about the family’s restriction on violent games in the house.

The 37-year-old founder of the Jeremy Staat Foundation is now a father with an 8-month- old baby. The implications of violence in society are real to him, not play. He did a tour as a Marine in Iraq, and was friends with NFL star Pat Tillman who joined to serve as an Army Ranger, but was killed in Afghanistan by an American bullet during a firefight.

Staat turns deadly earnest when speaking about the growing fascination among teenage boys with titles like “Call of Duty” that lead kids to blur reality and fiction. “You have to visualize things to do them…killing a thousand Nazis is like role-play to lose touch with what real violence is. These video games are ten times more realistic than what I used in training as a Marine,” he said, supporting family restrictions against violent video games.

Veteran suicide is on his mind. Staat rode a bicycle from California to Washington, D.C. to draw attention to the suicide rates among American veterans. Figures roll off his tongue: “We lose 21 veterans a day to suicide—58,541 soldiers were lost in Vietnam, but we’ve lost 168,000 to suicide right here in the U.S.A.,” he said. He advocates “VOB—Veteran-owned businesses” to get vets invested in society again. He is opening his own VOB: an “old-fashioned gym in Bakersfield to train amateur boxers.”

Jeremy Staat’s personal goals may sound eclectic, until you look at his big picture. The veteran wants to continue his campaign to bring free motivational speakers to public schools; to focus attention on the need to return vocational training to high schools and to get his own certificate in welding; to build awareness in veterans about their responsibility to invest in improving society here at home; and to get a degree in physical education.
 

This is part of the April 12, 2013 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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