The first day of school isn't typically chock-full of learning. Students usually spend the day figuring out schedules, remembering locker combinations and learning their teachers' names. High school students are also wrapping their heads around a new 8-period day.
But teen motivational speaker Jeff Yalden delivered a thought-provoking lesson to the 2,100 students Monday at H.D. Jacobs High School in Algonquin. Monday was the first day of classes in Carpentersville-based Community Unit District 300.
Fox Valley first days of schoolAug. 13: Community Unit District 300
Aug. 22: Fox River Grove Elementary District 3, Cary Elementary District 26, Central Unit District 301, Elgin Area School District U-46, Huntley Unit District 158, St. Charles Unit District 303.
Aug. 27: Crystal Lake High School District 155
Aug. 28: Crystal Lake Elementary District 47
Yalden, 41, a motivational speaker who appeared on MTV's reality series "MADE," told students that life is often harder than it needs to be because of choices we make. The speech tied in with the school's motto of be ready, be respectful and be responsible.
"Disappointment comes from expectations being too high," Yalden told the special assembly of more than 2,100 students. "What if we go through life and go through the school year and we lower the expectations? Because if you do that, you have control over your life, you have control over your choices and you have control over your attitude. I am going to say something that might offend people, but if your life sucks that's because you suck ... Change your attitude, change your choices and life might not be so bad anymore."
Yalden knows the downs of life. Kicked out of home at 17, Yalden joined the Marines at 19, went to war at 21 and was married with two children and then divorced by the time he was 24. He has seen how cruel life and people can be. He watched a fellow Marine commit suicide. He stood by helplessly as a group of teenage girls humiliated his autistic nephew who just wanted to say hi. Then, a few years ago his ex-wife called him up from Dayton, Ohio, to tell him she had left their two daughters at the airport and that she no longer wanted them in her family's life. He drove from New Hampshire to Ohio and saw his two girls sitting on a bench with three black trash bags.
"They had no phone and no money," Yalden said. "All they had was the hope that daddy was going to get them."
Genevieve Goelz, 16, from Algonquin, said Yalden's speech inspired her to take a second look at her own life and have a different outlook for her junior year.
"I feel like I need to go through every moment and enjoy it and not think about the future," Genevieve said. "I know I have to think about the future, like college, but you have to enjoy what is here now because you only live life once and it is going to go away. You just have to enjoy it."
The new school year also brings some changes for students at the district's three high schools. Students will now take eight classes per semester, instead of four classes each of the four terms.
"The thing I liked about the four-block was that you only had at most five classes at any one time, which means only five classes total to organize for," said Matt Wolf, 15, from Carpentersville. "Now, with having seven to eight classes at one time, it is going to be a lot harder to make sure you have everything you need and more to keep track of."