By: Veronica Burniston
The bleachers of the Johnson County High School gymnasium were overflowing with students on Thursday, August 22, 2013, as guest speaker, Joel Penton, delivered an inspirational message to the teens. With a relatable approach and touch of humor, Penton sent ripples of laughter through the student body as he spoke to them about the positive impact of making good decisions and following through with commitments. His honesty and positive message gave the audience, students and faculty, something to consider and something to pursue; that something was maintaining personal commitments.
Joel Penton, a former college football player for Ohio State University, is known as one of the nations leading youth motivational speakers. During his five years at Ohio State, Penton received the Danny Wuerffel Trophy in 2006, also known as the Humanitarian Heisman, which is a national award given annually to one college football player out of the entire United States. The award recognizes a player that not only serves his best in the fields of athletics and academics but also in his community. After graduating from Ohio State, Penton chose to begin speaking at middle schools and high schools around the country instead of pursuing a career in the NFL. Penton is also the author of the book, Stand Your Ground, which also promotes the same positive message of rising above the obstacles and peer pressure that keep one from his or her commitments.
The program started at 9 a.m. when the high school principal, Lisa Arnold, introduced the guest speaker with a short speech and an introductory video. Penton opened his hour with the teens by asking for 14 volunteers, seven male and seven female. He had them gather together on the gym floor and gave them the instructions for an Agree/Disagree game where he stated facts such as: If you were at a party and people started drinking alcohol, you would leave. To this statement, the volunteers would move to one side of the court if they agreed and to the opposite side if they disagreed. The opinions often varied, sometimes leaving one person to stand valiantly on his own and, literally, stand his ground as the rest of his peers crowded together on the opposite line. The game not only revealed something about each individuals commitments but also about the peer pressure that often reaches full force in teen-hood.
For the second half of the hour, Penton spoke to the students about his struggles keeping his commitment (to be the best football player he could be) in high school. When he refused to follow his friends in unwise decisions, he found himself alone and disliked by most of the student body. However, Penton remained committed to his goal and, eventually, he was offered a football scholarship from Ohio State University. Unlike many speakers, Penton didnt focus on the negative consequences of poor decisions, instead he focused on the positive results of making good decisions. He encouraged them to make commitments and be wise about their everyday choices. Holding up his championship ring, he said it served as a reminder of his commitment, a reminder of the accomplishments that come with standing your ground.
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