ALAMOSA — Motivational speaker Craig Conrad spoke to a packed auditorium at Ortega Middle School on Wednesday night. Conrad also spoke at the elementary school and high school throughout the week so that all students, faculty and community members had a chance to hear him.
The talk, sponsored by Alamosa Public Health and San Luis Valley Health, started with an inspirational message of perseverance. One day the former woodshop teacher told a student of his at Moffat County High School "when it's darkest, that's when the stars come out."
The student, Dale Musgrave, was a wrestler that qualified for the state championship. However, he broke his hand and couldn't play because the Colorado High School Activities Association doesn't allow casts on the mat. Having worn it for only a week, Musgrave told his coach to cut the cast off right before the match.
Musgrave then won the championship with only one good hand.
Later the student thanked Conrad for motivating him. Realizing the effect he had, Conrad went over to his desk and threw away a piece of paper.
"What I threw away that day, 30 some years ago now, was my letter of resignation. Now my job is helping kids know they have that power to make the right choices, the power to make the right decisions, the power to be unstoppable. Because average sucks."
Conrad then had two students demonstrate the visual metaphor of a bundle of sticks, also known as the fasces. A student found it easy to break a single stick, but when bundled together the other student saw that it's more difficult.
"If you bundle up and stick together, you're unbreakable and unstoppable," said Conrad. "That applies to your families, your school, your community and this country."
The symbol of strength has been used since the ancient Etruscans by multiple governments such as Benito Mussolini's National Fascist Party and the United States.
Conrad's presentation then went in a more political direction by talking about the Pledge of Allegiance and current events.
"In my 60 years of living I have never seen our country as split and divided as it is right now," Conrad said. "I worried about what will happen if we don't bundle up and stick together."
He shared a story about his son Colton and another student, Armando, getting into an argument when Armando pledged to Mexico instead of the United States. Conrad, imitating Armando's accent, then reenacted a conversation he had with the student about why Colton was upset.
He explained that Colton had a figurative older brother, named Chance Phelps, who lived next door in Conrad's rental property. Phelps joined the Marines after high school and died in Iraq. The story of his remains returning to his hometown of Dubois, Wyoming, became the subject of the 2009 HBO film "Taking Chance."
"When you sit down during The Pledge of Allegiance in our country," said Conrad, "you take that bundle that is your classmates and you break it apart. The only reason you get to sit down in this county is because of the sacrifice people like Chance have made."
Conrad then deconstructed the pledge word by word. When he got to the word "indivisible" he discussed the American Civil War. Originally from Pennsylvania, Conrad described what it's like to visit Gettysburg.
"Before they tear everything down because of the way things are going, I want to challenge you to go and take the tour [of Gettysburg]...When you get there you feel like you are stepping back in time... In my opinion we must never get back to that."
Though the phrase "under God" wasn't added to the pledge until 1954, Conrad warned the students that "there are forces in this country that want to remove 'God' from your pledge, off the back of your dollar bill and remove the nativity scene at Christmas."
Later in the evening Conrad expressed anger at educational institutions as well. "This nation needs more teachers, more administrators and more parents that aren't afraid to take a stand!" yelled Conrad. "That aren't afraid to tell you kids 'No!' We're raising a generation of snowflakes!
"...If you turn on a TV station there's so much anti-American rhetoric. Almost every college and a lot of high schools are teaching that anti-American sentiment! What's going to happen if that attitude gets instilled in our young people? Who is going to defend us?"
Yet, when getting to the phrase "with liberty and justice for all," Conrad mentioned that he still believes America is the greatest country in the world.
"We haven't always gotten that right in this county. Just ask any minority group. But you know what? We fixed it ourselves. We abolished slavery and gave women the right to vote. We didn't need another country to come in and invade us."
Right before that Conrad expressed displeasure with the idea of constructing a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
"There are so many people who want the opportunity that we have," said Conrad. "It really used to tick me off when I saw my students blowing off their education! There are kids that died trying to get here to get a piece of that pie!"
Conrad's last story focused on Mark Juarez, another student he inspired. Though Juarez was an excellent wrestler, he was bullied by his teammates for his Hispanic heritage. After school Juarez joined the Marines and helped clean up after the attacks on September 11. Shortly thereafter Juarez fought in Afghanistan.
"Before you get ready to spew that garbage, stop for a minute and think," said Conrad. "That very person you're spewing garbage to could be one day protecting your very way of life."
Conrad ended the talk with the same message Juarez told a group of students at Moffat County High School when Juarez returned from overseas: "Don't be afraid to be something great."