- Michael D. Clark Staff Writer
Jeff Yalden is advice in motion.
The former U.S. Marine and depression survivor was a moving target of attention recently as he spoke to hundreds of students at Fairfield’s Creekside Middle School on how to deal with and prevent bullying.
Sporting tattoos, piercings and a non-traditional approach to speaking to students, Yalden’s brutally candid recounting of his own experience overcoming depression and the bullying stories he has gathered from decades of speaking at schools across the nation captured the attention of the Fairfield teens and the appreciation of school officials.
Bullying is a constant of school life but it can be minimized, he told them in tough love fashion.
“Life is not fair,” Yalden told teens recently gathered in the school gym. “Life will never be fair.”
“If I am anything less than being tough on you, then I am doing you a disservice. So, if your parents are hard on you, your coaches are hard on you and your teachers are hard on you, then say thank you,” he said.
“I want everyone in this room to better than your teachers, to be better than your parents. But I shouldn’t want more for you than you want for yourself,” he said, stressing to the seventh and eighth graders how they need to embrace their potential for success and strive for a better life.
The cycle of bullying in schools nationwide, he said, will only lessen when forgiveness is part of the mix.
“You forgive people not for them but for ourselves. One of the most healthy things you can do — when someone may have said something to you — is to give them forgiveness,” he said.
Bullying has been a flashpoint issue in Fairfield Schools in recent years after the 2014 suicide of Fairfield Middle School student Emilie Olsen, who fatally shot herself in her parents’ bedroom.
In the wake of her death, her parents filed a federal lawsuit against the Butler County school system contending that bullying she received from classmates was the main cause of her suicide and that Fairfield school officials should have done more to prevent the alleged abuse.
Fairfield school officials denied any connections to Olsen’s death and filed a rebuttal lawsuit.
A jury trial is tentatively set for February 2018.
Earlier this year Fairfield Schools take the unusual step among other local schools of creating an anti-bullying, district level position.
Donny Martin, bullying and harassment officer for the schools, said Yalden connects with kids.
“We wanted to give our students and our staff … a chance to see someone who can be extremely relatable and give them some really practical advice and instill in them a sense of empathy,” said Martin.
“When you hear some of Jeff’s own personal struggles – and he was very open about sharing them – we feel like it really gives students a chance to have a better understanding, empathy, come to terms with some of their own struggles,” she said.