ST. LEON – “In life, it’s not what we could do or what we might do, it’s what we do,” Ted Wiese, Wiese Training and Development, told East Central High School sophomores, juniors and seniors on Aug. 7, their first day of school.
“I work for myself and travel all over the country .... On a trip to Chicago, my wife wanted to go with me,” the Carmel resident noted. “We were cruising along when we come to a tollbooth. I get into the lane which appears to be the shortest. There’s three or four cars in front of me. Then I see the sign that says, ‘Exact change only – 85 cents.’
“I see that sign, but I don’t have 85 cents. I have my wallet, but there’s nobody there to give me change. I look at my wife, and she says, ‘I don’t have 85 cents.’ I thought everybody had 85 cents hidden in their car somewhere, so I started looking between the seats, but my wife said, “Yesterday I vacuumed out the car.’
“Now there were two cars in front of me, and when you get up to the booth you are supposed to throw money in the basket and then the gate would go up. I moved up slowly, but when I got there, I was totally stuck. I hear horns honking.
“Then I see the door of the car behind me open and someone in a cutoff T-shirt and tattoos gets out. It was the meanest, nastiest-looking woman you’ve ever seen. She walked up to my car and without even looking at me, reached into her pocket and threw 85 cents in the basket.
“That lady chose to be part of the solution instead of the problem. She was willing to take action. She decided to do something,” he pointed out. “Today, as you discover your leadership, are you going to be part of the solution or part of the problem? When you’re in the classroom, on the field or in the hallway, ask yourself this question.”
Wiese announced he had spoken in all 50 states and recently had the opportunity to speak internationally in Honduras. While there, he ate lunch with a group of students who “wanted me to try this dish, and I finally agreed.” He said later he discovered it was a live Honduran newt, similar to a lizard.
He asked three young ladies, who volunteered, to come to the stage. After blindfolding them, he said he was going to give them a chance to hold and try a newt. Two of the girls were hesitant and nervous about holding the creatures and didn’t want anything to do with eating them. The third did eat it. Then all three took off their blindfolds and discovered what they were holding were actually candy gummy worms.
The speaker admitted, “I did speak at a school in Honduras, but they didn’t give me newts .... You just saw why it’s difficult to be part of the solution instead of the problem. There is the fear of the unknown and fear of what people might say if you step up and do the right thing. It’s normal to be scared when you’re trying to make something positive happen.
“If we did that activity again, I could pick any three people, and all three would eat the ‘newt’ right away because the fear is gone. We learn from our experiences, but the only way to get the experience is to try and step up.”
He also told the story of Bill, a 20-year-old with Down syndrome, who was a senior in an Arizona high school. “He was different, so he got ignored by the other students. One day, another senior, Kevin, who was captain of the football team, was late for class, and he ran into Bill and knocked him down. Kevin felt bad and helped Bill up.
“As Kevin was running to class, he started thinking, ‘I wonder why nobody speaks to him.’ Bill always walked through the halls with his head down, but one day Kevin said hi to him and talked to him.
“The hardest part of Bill’s day was lunch. He’d get in line like everybody else, but then everybody else sat with their friends, and he looked for an empty table and sat in silence. Kevin never noticed that before, so he walked over to him and said, ‘I want you to have lunch with me today.’” Kevin continued to ask him to sit with him at lunch. Then the other kids started talking to him, and “Bill started walking the halls with his head up. His mom even called the school and said, ‘For the first time in my son’s life, he is excited to go to school.’”
Later Bill got up the courage to ask if he could join the football team, and the coach said yes. “He was terrible at football, but his enthusiasm was out of this world, and he had the best attitude and was the best teammate .... He got to play in two games, and both times he ran the wrong way, and guess what? No one said anything. Even though the team didn’t make it to the state championship, the coach said, ‘This is the all-time greatest team because of the way we took care of one of our own.’”
The program leader emphasized, “I want you to realize this: All it takes is one, and that could be you. Kevin stood up. By chance he ran into someone. By choice he did something .... Every single one of you can make a difference. If everyone stands up and does the right thing, imagine what you can do.”
Afterwards, senior Katelyn Lussow described the program as “amazing.” She learned, “You have to accept everyone for who they are.”
Classmate Sarah Lehman said, “It was so inspiring. It hits home ... I know people like Bill and will make them feel welcome.”
Diane Raver can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 812-934-4343, Ext. 114.