One moment can really change your life forever, but you have the power to decide whether it will be for good or bad.
On Thursday, May 7, CVA students listened to guest speaker Bobby Petrocelli explain how in a few seconds in 1984, the high school guidance counselor and coach went from a life filled with dreams to the darkest despair. That evening, a drunk driver plowed his Ford pickup at 70 mph through the bedroom wall of Bobby’s suburban Houston bedroom. The wreck killed Bobby’s young wife and left him physically and emotionally broken.
What came next, however, is a story of inspiration and hope for everyone.
From the depths of tragedy, he described his slow and difficult climb back to happiness. His initial shock and disbelief after the accident soon turned to agony. He had been helpless and unable to protect his wife. Anger toward the driver and the situation drove him deep into depression. His turning point was when his students came to him to remind him how important he was. They changed his focus and helped him recognize his true family and friends. Bobby ultimately met a woman who he married and they have two sons.
These experiences gave him insight into how others struggle in life and became the foundation of his message.
Following the accident, he wrestled with his personal pain, trying to understand the why behind what had happened. He eventually came to the conclusion that people who have been hurt, too often, make poor decisions to mask that hurt. Those poor decisions reinforce the internal message that, “I don’t matter.” Without a sense of self worth, people continue to make poor and dangerous decisions—like that drunk driver who ignored the risks of drunk driving and killed Bobby’s wife.
Bobby looked out over the silent crowd and told them that they do matter.
“You are the most amazing people on earth,” he said. “When I am in the presence of students, I am in the presence of royalty.”
He explained that bad things happen in life; sometimes because a person makes mistakes and other times, things just happen. Those bad things leave an open wound that needs to heal. Untreated, that wound continues to eat away at a person’s self worth, leading to drugs, alcohol, bullying and other destructive behaviors.
To heal, he said, people first need to distinguish between guilt and shame. Guilt is the natural and healthy response that comes from making a mistake. Accepting guilt means accepting responsibility for that mistake. Guilt helps people learn from their mistakes and take steps to not repeat them.
Shame is very different. Where guilt says, “I made a mistake,” shame says, “I am a mistake.” Shame paralyzes and prevents a person from moving forward. He encouraged everyone to recognize the difference and to overcome shame.
“What happens to you doesn’t have to define you,” Bobby said.
“You can’t control other people. What you do in your future is up to you.”
What happens in 10 seconds can change your life for good or bad, he said. People have to choose to move forward and heal. Otherwise, they become lost in a repeating pattern of shame, poor choices and more shame.
He said we need to rely on our internal GPS. When we are going in the wrong direction, it tells us, “recalculate, recalculate.”
His message that “you matter” and you have the power to make choices and heal old wounds resonated with the entire crowd, from students to teachers. Afterward, students lined up to thank him and grab a quick photo. Others quietly commented that his presentation was one of the most powerful they had ever heard.
Thanks to Scott Grates
Each year around prom and graduation time, Scott Grates State Farm Insurance helps organize and underwrite a speaker to remind students to make wise decisions. Previous speakers focused on a horrible tragedy and their messages were a not-so-subtle warning that “this could happen to you if you make the wrong choice.”
When Mr. Grates learned of Bobby through State Farm, he immediately recognized Bobby was different. Bobby’s message was encouraging, empowering and often funny. He laughs at his Brooklyn roots, openly shares his personal horror surrounding the accident and models a life filled with forgiveness, compassion and determination.
“We can’t thank Mr. Grates enough for bringing Mr. Petrocelli to Central Valley,” said principal Renee Rudd.
“I had veteran teachers walk up to me afterward and tell me it was the best student assembly they had seen in their careers.”