Parents Offer Real-Life Lessons by Imagining the Worst

Just days before prom, and with graduation right on the horizon, five members of the La Cañada High School peer-counseling bridge class recruited their parents to take the stage and publicly imagine the worst. They put themselves through the brutal exercise in an effort to drive home a message to students about the dangers of drunk driving.
Teacher Gavin Williams issued an invitation to the assembly earlier in the week at the La Cañada Unified School District Governing Board meeting, echoing the thoughts of colleagues: “I’m worried every Monday morning about showing up and seeing a kid not there.”
So, for the third time in his 15 years at LCHS, juniors and seniors dropped what they were doing in their fourth-period class to gather in the auditorium. Together, they sat through a solemn hour staged to feel like a faux funeral for five of their fellow Spartans.
The “deceased” were actually backstage with their classmates, trying to hold it together while their parents read aloud what they really might say if they had to eulogize them — in this thankfully fictional case, because a drunk driver had crashed into a car they’d all been traveling in.
Following a tribute video that featured a montage of photos of the would-be victims, Kristina Kalb, the school’s athletic director, took the stage to talk about her daughter, Alaina.
With a quaking voice, Kalb talked about her daughter’s determination to dance from an early age, about their close relationship, and about a cousin Kristina lost, in real life, in a similar scenario.
“I began to relive the horror I felt when Alaina was 7 and her uncle called from Oregon to tell me my cousin Lisa had been killed by a drunk driver on her way home from work. Lisa had been two weeks away from being a bride. She never got to wear that dress, or become a mom or realize her dreams.”
Afterward, when the auditorium had cleared, Kalb marveled at how difficult a task the speech had been.
“That was literally the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Kalb said. “When the lights went out and the crash sounded [early in the assembly], my heart stopped. And then it started racing.
“I told myself, ‘I can’t sob through the whole thing because then nobody’s going to understand what I’m trying to say.’ I could’ve just lost it up there. The grief I was feeling, it was so real, even though I knew it wasn’t real.”
Thursday’s presentation before about 375 students was heavy on the potential future price of drunk driving.
If the story were true, parents told the audience, Alaina Kalb would not go off to the University of Kentucky to study business marketing; Kyle Mysliviec would never have the opportunity to sing lullabies to his own babies; Rose Quezada would never walk down the aisle; Alexa Tarui would not make a positive difference in many people’s lives, and they would never know it; and Oliva Juse would not have the opportunity to, as her mom, Eva, put it, “make a name for herself.”
“They say when a child dies, they take away the future as well,” said Tarui’s mother, Aki.
The event, which Williams said came together quickly and instinctively this year, was a scaled-back and somewhat more-personal version of the “Every 15 Minutes” presentation that took place at the school last year. That two-day project took a group of students through a macabre series of events, starting with a realistic-looking staged accident in front of the school, and then to court, the hospital and finally another mock funeral in the LCHS gym.
“There are things about ‘Every 15 Minutes’ that are great,” Williams said. “But there are times that it feels too big. I don’t know if it reaches kids on a personal note.”
Last week it seemed as if they’d gotten through to kids filing silently out of the theater — or spotted by Williams shedding tears in the hallway outside.
“It was definitely emotional,” said Kamden Gray, a senior. “You know this happens, people drink and party in La Cañada every weekend; it’s a reality that could happen. It’s a genuine fear and people don’t realize fully what could happen, but this did that for me.”
That was the whole idea, Williams and his students said.
“We just wanted to send a powerful message to a problem that has a solution — simply don’t [drink and] drive. With Uber nowadays, there’s really no excuse,” Rose Quezada said. “We just wanted to exemplify the consequences of a stupid decision that a lot of high schoolers make every weekend with no consequences. We wanted to show the consequences today.”

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