In his commencement address to the Stanford University Class of 2005, Steve Jobs said:
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life.
On Thursday, April 29 and Friday, April 30, the San Ramon Valley High School community took part in the program, “Every 15 Minutes.” This program is designed to show teens the potentially life-threatening consequences of drinking alcohol and driving while texting.
On Thursday, students, staff, and family members witnessed a simulated crash scene that took place on the stadium field. Every fifteen minutes, a student was “killed” by a drunk driver and the accident would be announced to the school. The next day, the entire student body assembled across the street at St. Isidore’s for a funeral in remembrance of the past day’s victims. These victims––the “living dead,” read letters to their family and friends expressing what they would have done with their time, if only they were alive.
The name of the program is derived from the fact that when the program was initiated in the 1990’s, someone died from an alcohol-related accident every fifteen minutes. According to a California Highway Patrol report, an alcohol-related fatality occurs today around once every thirty minutes.
Like Steve Job’s experience with pancreatic cancer, “Every 15 Minutes” is a reminder to us of the inherent fragility of life. At its heart, this program attempts to move beyond death as an intellectual concept and treats death as very real, as only one choice away.
Some students feel that this experience was a manipulation of their emotions. And parts of the program are certainly designed to this end. The announcements over the intercom didn’t seem believable. The crash scene, swarming with camera people and emergency personnel seemed overly dramatic at times. I’ll remember, for example, how the police cars circled around the track with their sirens blaring, taking the least direct path to the crash scene.
I’ve seen the “Every 15 Minutes” program twice now in my high school career. The first time was freshmen year, just over three years ago. I still vividly remember the “dramatic-factor”––all the lights and the sirens and the fake blood. I’ll admit that I was partially desensitized seeing the crash scene a second time. I knew what was going to happen, and I kept thinking to myself, “Any minute now, that Medivac helicopter is going to land on that field.”
On the other hand, the program has an “emotional factor.” This factor will continue to have the same effect on students and will not prove desensitizing over time. While the events on Thursday are staged and take months of planning, the letters read by family, friends, and students and the stories of the guest-speakers on Friday require no acting. The stories of parents who have lost their children to alcohol-related accidents are real. They are the culmination of the program and offer the most resounding message of the power of a single choice.
In the end, “Every 15 Minutes” will not stop teenagers altogether from driving under the influence. Nor will it stop teenagers from making bad choices. This program can’t do that. These past few days, the San Ramon Valley High School community has experienced the effect that tragedy can have on us, which ultimately is what we associate death with. “Every 15 Minutes” hinges on the possibility that experiencing real tragedy does not require us to experience real death. Whether death is the best invention of life I leave up to you to decide. However, tragedy too is an “invention” of life and like death, can compel us to lead our lives differently.
The Teen Wire provides a perspective on today's youth in the face of a changing world. Daniel Morizono, a senior at San Ramon Valley High School and news editor of the Wolfprint can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.