By Alana Farkas
The morning of Nov. 20 was as normal as any other November morning— students arrived at school with coffee in hand, Spanish first period, English second… You could hear some talk about the shortened periods of the day, and the assembly coming up third period, but besides that tiny spark of excitement, the morning of Nov. 20 was just another November morning.
Homeroom came around and students recognized a familiar voice on the loudspeaker instructing them to head down to the East Gym. So they followed their peers to the gym where students and teachers continued to fill the bleachers and floor.
Sitting there, many students had a million thoughts swirling around in their heads: Math test next period, science homework that needed to be finished, practice after school… and perhaps thinking that this assembly is bound to be a waste of time. So some students may have sighed and began to count the minutes as the gym lights shut off and the projector video introduced Chris Herren.
The video ended and the man of the hour walked hastily through the gym doors. The crowd welcomed the ex-basketball star with passion, but he was not distracted by the attention.
He did not hesitate to begin his speech. “The reason why I do this, why I come here today, is because, like you, I had so many chances. Like you, I had so many opportunities to listen when my coach would bring somebody in to talk about drugs and alcohol,” said Herren.
Herren then pointed to a group of students talking in the back. Calling them out, he explained how crucial it was that they listen. He explained the importance of his story and his experience as a drug addict.
Herren started by mapping out his life as a basketball hero. He described his personal experiences on both his high school and college teams. Students were intrigued. Who wouldn’t be impressed with the words spoken by a famous professional basketball player?
But then, Herren began discussing the first time he ever tried cocaine. And how cocaine was a gateway to trying pain-killers, which eventually led to heroin. Herren described the darkness in his life—the people he disappointed, the opportunities he lost, the loved ones he hurt.
All 1,281 pairs of eyes focused on this one man. The silence of the gym was so intense, you could hear a pin drop. Chris Herren revealed some of the darkest moments of his life. On that November day, Herren opened up his personal vault of horrors, pain, and humiliation just so he could reach out to a group of teenagers—just so he could “save at least one life.”
If you took away one thing from that assembly, it should have been the notion that “it could be you.” You and I alike are as susceptible to addiction as any person sitting next to us. But Chris Herren taught us that the choices we make define who we are. It is our decisions that outline our paths.
No one who heard his speech that day could deny that Chris Herren is a hero. You may have seen students in tears, touched by Herren’s incredible story. You may have read multiple twitter posts describing the assembly with adjectives like “amazing,” “moving,” or “life-changing.”
Herren’s ultimate message was that everyone has problems in life, and whether or not we try to conceal these problems through unhealthy behaviors, “we are only as sick as our secrets.”