STOW: More than 400 seniors gathered in the Stow-Munroe Falls High School auditorium Wednesday morning for the second annual Make A Difference program.
The senior recognition ceremony featured Mayor Sara Drew as keynote speaker and former Stow resident Adam Helbling to offer advice to the graduating class.
For the second time, however, it wasn’t who was there, but rather who wasn’t there that made for an interesting twist.
During the prize giveaway portion of the ceremony, senior Brett Bejcek was able to capitalize on two no-shows to win a 2014 Chevy Cruze donated by the Ron Marhofer Auto Family.
During last year’s event, one student also missed out on winning a car by his absence. Attendance was required to claim the prizes.
“I’m so thankful that everyone came together to put this on,” Bejcek said. “The speakers were really motivational. I want to send a huge thank you to the Marhofer family and the staff who helped with the event. It means a lot to me.”
Bejcek, who plans to attend Ohio State University and major in actuarial science, also won an iPad earlier in the program. He said he doesn’t own a car and plans to drive his friends around this summer.
The program wasn’t simply about getting a free car, iPads or gift cards. Speakers Drew and Helbling offered messages to inspire the graduates as they embark on the next phase of their lives.
Drew shared stories about her life after high school — using a peanut butter and jelly sandwich as a prop — and talked about how she attempted to do “great things outside Medina, Ohio.” Those achievements included a cross-country road trip, running for mayor and being a single parent, she said.
“Along the way, I realized what was really important in my life and what was important in helping me achieve those great things were the more mundane and routine, boring aspects,” Drew said. “Making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for my daughter or myself, doing the laundry, showing up at work, being a good citizen.”
She encouraged the seniors to think about those routine things they do in their lives and use them to achieve greatness.
“It’s really hard to achieve great things if you’re hungry and you don’t have a good foundation,” she said.
Helbling, an Ohio State University graduate, was extremely involved on campus, including participating on the water-ski team. Due to a manic episode caused by bipolar disorder, Helbling said, he embarked on excessive drug use that eventually led to a car accident.
The accident left him paralyzed from the chest down.
He told the Stow students how his life is different — and even for the better.
“You can do much more with your mind than your body,” he said. “Through this tragedy, I could transform my life into a new beginning.”
Helbling graduated with a degree in civil engineering and said that before he had planned to tie his work to water skiing, now he plans to make the world a better place for people with disabilities.