CANANDAIGUA — “You’re in the driver’s seat for your life. No one else can drive for you.”
That’s the message that Amanda Mason — Miss New York — left for teens in an afternoon youth forum on drugs and alcohol Wednesday at The Inn on the Lake.
Espousing a message of self-determination and self-protection, Mason — the national youth spokesperson for the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence — admitted to being bullied in high school and having the same kinds of problems other kids had. The turning point in her life came in middle school when she decided on her “DREAM” approach to making herself everything she could.
The “D” is for “Determination: Never give up,” she said. “I competed for Miss New York four times until I became first runner-up last year — and then Miss New York became Miss America, so I stepped into her role. When one door closes, another bigger one opens.
“‘R’ is for Respect: The biggest disrespect you can do yourself is to do drugs,” she continued. “Follow the Golden Rule and treat others as you want to be treated: that’s an issue with bullying.
“‘E’ is for Evaluate: It’s not just about saying ‘No,’ but saying ‘No’ and getting out of a situation.” Mason remembered a high school party where her classmates were smoking pot and drinking and passing around a plastic bag full of a variety of prescription meds. She called her dad and left the party.
“‘A’ is for Accountability: What are the consequences? You have to realize what you want to be accountable for.
“‘M’ is for Motivation: Stay motivated. The more positive choices you make early in life, the easier it gets later on.”
On the subject of bullying, Mason’s advice was quick: “Take care of it right away; if not, it gets bigger and bigger. Talk to someone you trust. You have to trust yourself. You have to listen to yourself.”
Ontario County sheriff’s Deputy Bob Holland complemented Mason’s message with something he tells his children: “The one person you can never move away from is you. Before you make a decision and you’re not sure what the answer is, picture me right behind you.”
Geneva Middle School student Ayzaya Fowler attended with her mom, Val. “They should do this more often,” Val said. “This encourages kids to be advocates not only for themselves, but for a friend who might be hurting.”
Ayzaya spent 10 minutes after the presentation in close conversation with Mason. “I was hoping for some advice on some difficult problems, peer pressure, bullying,” she said. “I was happy my mom and her friend came with me. What was nice is that all the speakers were willing to tell us about themselves and give advice about what they’ve been through and what they know.”
Holland used his time before the audience to talk about making “safe and responsible decisions.”
“If everybody, including you and your parents and grandparents and neighbors, made every decision a safe and responsible one every day, we wouldn’t need police officers or EMS responders or a lot of other people,” he said.
The forum included speakers from the Finger Lakes Addictions Counseling and Referral Agency and the Council on Alcoholism.