Students were captivated Tuesday night in the Athletic Pavilion by guest speaker Aaron Cooksey as he told his devastating life story.
The night started out serious and solemn as Cooksey painted a vivid portrait to his listeners about the trials and tribulations of his life.
“I introduce myself as Aaron Cooksey, but for about four years I was known as inmate 422208,” Cooksey said.
He began his talk with his upbringing in Ohio.
“I had what most people would consider a perfect life,” he said. “I was captain of all my baseball, football and basketball teams. I never drank, partied or looked for short cuts, everyone in town knew who I was; I was the golden boy.”
He fell into a downward spiral after he injured his knee for a second time while playing college baseball.
“I started abusing drugs and drinking heavily every day. There was a point in my life where I would leave work by 11, and be at the bar from 1in the afternoon until 2 in the morning,” Cooksey said.
Cooksey’s abuse of pain killers and alcohol eventually led to his demise.
It got to the point where he could not even go out without thinking about drinking. He lost the meaning of having a good time without the aid of alcohol.
Ultimately it was alcohol that caused the car accident that would lead to the death of his best friend and change the course of his life forever.
Cooksey’s graphic descriptions of his car crash created a sea of emotions among the students. You could hear a pin drop in the intensity of the moment.
The image of the red pick-up truck wrapped around the wooden pole caused tears in some of the students’ eyes.
“I put myself in his shoes and I visualized my best friend laying dead in the back seat, not because of drinking and driving, but because of something stupid that I did,” sophomore biology major Danielle Burgess said.
Cooksey made it clear to students that his speech was not just about alcohol awareness; it was about making the right decisions.
“Two of the worst feelings I have ever had were knowing that I killed my best friend, and that I let my parents down,” Cooksey said.
Cooksey ended his speech with two requests.
First he asked that no one clap for him as he walked away after finishing his speech and second, he asked the students to stand if they promised to make the right decisions and not drink and drive.
In one sweep the entire pavilion stood to their feet in unison as Cooksey dramatically dropped the keys belonging to the totaled pick-up truck and walked off the court, creating a silence among the students.
Cooksey’s message of making the right decisions was conveyed effectively to the University of La Verne students present.
“I thought his speech was really good, it was intense and inspirational, especially because I can relate to his stories,” Rachel deBos, senior liberal studies major, said.
A lot of thought went into choosing Cooksey as the guest speaker for this event as student leader and Order of Omega President Noor Wahba said prior to the speech.
“We chose to have an alcohol awareness guest speaker because it is an issue here on campus,” Wahba said. “Just because La Verne is a dry campus does not mean people are not drinking here.
“People are always going off campus to different bars and clubs, drinking until they are practically belligerent and coming back to the campus, Wahba said.
“We just want to get the message out and make students aware of the risk they put on themselves and others when they drink and drive,” Wahba said.
“All actions have consequences; both good and bad, so minimize the worst outcome and make the next best choice,” Cooksey said.
Christopher Barnes-Baxter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.