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Speaker moves Clay City students to tears

Monday, February 18, 2008

Nationally known speaker Rick Stoddard spoke to junior high students in Clay City Monday.
Middle school students are not always known for their attention spans, but speaker Rick Stoddard kept Clay City Junior High School students focused on his message Monday afternoon.

Stoddard shared the story of his wife, Marie, and her battle with smoking-related lung cancer.

A carpenter by trade, he has been traveling the country for eight years trying to encourage middle and high school students to make informed decisions about tobacco use, and to recognize the advertising tools tobacco companies employ.

Students entered the auditorium to a bell tolling every eight seconds, signifying how one person dies from smoking-related disease every eight seconds in the United States.

When all were seated, a group of sophomores presented a skit entitled, "The 12 days of Smoking," in which students sang about the "gifts" received from tobacco companies for smoking to the familiar holiday tune.

The skit was a lighthearted introduction to a very serious program.

"We're going to laugh, some kids will be visibly shaken by what I have to say, we're going to get mad, we're going to think, and we're going to laugh out loud," Stoddard said about the tone of his program.

He showed students the series of public service announcements he filmed after his wife's death, most notably the PSA where Stoddard pondered, "I never thought of 23 as middle aged."

That commercial aired during the 2001 Super Bowl, and it is estimated more than 140 million people saw Stoddard's message that night.

Stoddard shared the story of how he met Marie, how they both began smoking in their early teens and the night it was discovered Marie had cancer.

She was taken to the hospital after collapsing at home, and doctors discovered tumors on her brain that had spread from her lungs. The cancer also spread to her liver.

Doctors told Stoddard his wife had six months to live.

He brought a copy of the journal he kept while Marie was going through treatment for the cancer, and read entries about her seizures and the deterioration of her motor skills.

While reading entries, the Clay City auditorium was silent.

Stoddard took a survey of the students, asking them to raise their hands if they knew someone who was sick or had passed from smoking-related disease. He also asked how many students were exposed to second-hand smoke. Both questions saw most of the crowd responding.

By the end of the hour-long program, when Stoddard showed a picture of Marie and played a Kenny Chesney song, several students were moved to tears.

Stoddard told the students the usual facts about the dangers of smoking and gave them a face and a story to put with the numbers.

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My son came home last night and this is all that he talked about. Great job!!! I firmly believe we don't need to sugar coat things for our kids. Tell them the plain hard truth. Hearing someone talk about their account personally will do more than any commerical. Thanks for a great presentation and being able to share your story. God Bless You!!!!

-- Posted by beautiful978 on Tue, Feb 19, 2008, at 10:39 AM

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