Self-respect was a theme Manhattan High School students heard Tuesday morning as they kicked off a week of anti-bullying activities by listening to a motivational speaker.
A biker with tattoos, a New England accent and many jokes to tell, Jeff Yalden, best known as a life coach on the MTV reality TV show “MADE,” began the day with MHS sophomores in Rezac Auditorium. He told them of his life and what he wanted young students to realize about themselves: their worth.
He said his appearance wasn’t typical of an educator or coach. But that was part of his message, for kids to be themselves and not to judge others based on what little they know about them.
“I know many of you are probably looking and me right now and you’re saying to yourself, ‘Dude, you don’t look like the type of guy that our teachers and administrators would bring in to talk to us,’” he said. “I’ve been in education for 22 years, and I know people judge me every day. People judge me for the way I dress. They judge me for the way I talk. One thing I figured out is that people judge you based on the 5 percent that they think they know about you.”
Yalden said he was a child with alcoholic parents and was kicked out of his house as a teenager. He would wander the streets of New York City with a chip on his shoulder from being abused and on his own. But he changed his attitude, he said.
“Greatest lesson I learned was to lose my ego and open my heart,” he said. He joined the Marine Corps, fought in the Persian Gulf War and started a family as a late teenager. He now has five daughters.
Yalden also said that he had bipolar disorder and a learning disability, which made life more difficult as he graduated from high school 128th of 133 students, but he said he eventually took responsibility for his attitude about it.
He wanted students to do the same, regardless of what they had going on in their lives. He spoke of his nephew who has an autism spectrum disorder and could not live on his own — a person, he said, without the opportunity to be independent.
“You guys have every opportunity to do things you want to do, but what sets you back is your self-doubting beliefs,” he said.
Before the assembly, Yalden, who travels around the country talking to students in colleges, high schools and middle schools said he had a different approach to get kids to respect themselves. He said he didn’t tell them the usual talk about telling them what not to do, including drugs, drinking or bullying.
“I can’t sit here and say, ‘Have love in your heart,’ but with the stories, I hope that they’re going to feel certain emotions about not judging people and having acceptance, and you know, we all might not fit together in the same sandbox, but that’s OK.”