Mom calls out 'dirtbag drivers' like her son after he killed five people drunk driving
SOURCE: YOU CHOOSE / MELISSA MCGUINNESS

This article originally appeared on September 13, 2019


Losing a child is a pain that many of us simply cannot comprehend. Given how much mothers and fathers love their sons and daughters, we can only begin to imagine how much pain they would feel when something terrible happens to their children. But for Melissa Hayes-McGuinness, a mom from Australia, the pain is even greater.

Her son, Jordan, died in a car crash in December 2012 at the age of 18. As did five other people who were unfortunate enough to cross Jordan when he was drink and drug driving at high speeds down a Gold Coast highway following a Christmas party. The five victims were sitting in a broken-down car waiting for help when Jordan collided with them at speeds of up to 87 miles per hour.

The sheer force of the crash caused the parked car to burst into flames. The only survivor was the 16-year-old driver of the parked car, who had to climb over his friends to escape the burning vehicle and suffered from severe burns and a head injury that still affects his memory to this day.

Among those killed in the parked car were a 20 and 23-year-old, their 15-month-old girl was orphaned. The other victims were 16, 17, and 18.


As you can imagine, Melissa has to deal with unimaginable grief on a daily basis. Not only for her son, but for those he killed, and those they left behind. But thankfully, Melissa has found a way to channel that grief positively. Every year, she travels across Australia speaking to teenagers about road safety. As part of her talks, she reads an incredibly powerful speech which she calls "Jordan's confession."

Her speech reads, in part:


SOURCE: YOU CHOOSE / MELISSA MCGUINNESS

"I would give anything that night to have just hit a tree and not left this horrendous legacy," Melissa begins. "Those kids didn't deserve what happened to them. In truth, I guess I did."

"I screwed up and paid the ultimate price. What I did was unforgivable," McGuinness continues, speaking on behalf of her son and addressing the orphaned girl, "I'm the reason you'll never see your mummy and daddy [again]."

Throughout the speech, Melissa shows photos of her son, including on his last day of school. Then, the photos changed to a news clip of the accident, showing blue flashing lights and twisted metal.

"Jordan was smart. Jordan was funny. Jordan was a great person, but none of that means anything now. None of it," McGuinness continues to tell the teenagers sitting in silence before her, many of whom are usually crying at this point.

"That's because he defined himself by his choices that night. He shaped a terrible and permanent legacy for himself, his family and his victims' families because he chose to drink, smoke [marijuana] and speed down that highway."

"And everything he did before that just pales in comparison."

"As much as there are hundreds of reasons to be proud of Jordan... he died in shame," his mother tells them, "This is how he's going to be remembered. There's no getting around that.

"My husband and I did not raise him to think that drink or drug driving was acceptable behavior, yet I stand up here as the mother of a kid responsible for the death of four kids from drinking and drug driving."

"Think of all the good stuff that you've done. Think of all the effort you've put into your life. Think of all the effort people who have loved you put into your life. And imagine all of that being wiped out by one stupid choice. Because that's the brutal reality of what happens."

"I still love Jordan profoundly, I miss him terribly... but this can't be sugarcoated. He defined himself permanently by his actions that night.

"There are accidents and there are choices. Jordan didn't have an accident that night. That's what happened to his victims. Jordan made a choice."

SOURCE: YOU CHOOSE / MELISSA MCGUINNESS

Melissa affectionately calls the teenagers she's talking to, particularly boys, "dirtbags." Why? Because they often think they're "ten foot tall and bullet-proof."

Following the death of her son and his victims, Melissa started the You Choose - Youth Road Safety campaign. It teaches young drivers about the devastating, life-long consequences of being reckless behind the wheel.

Melissa knew that most teenagers won't learn anything through a lecture, so instead she channels her own grief by telling her own story.

"I'm not lecturing them about right or wrong, I'm demonstrating through actual lived experience what it's like to be on the receiving-end of what I was," Melissa told Yahoo News.

"I show them a clip from Jordan's memorial ceremony and I ask them to imagine while they're watching it what it might be like if their family was in the same predicament that my family's [going through]."

"But pretty much just taking them on this entire grief journey from where it started—as the excited teenager about to start his life to the horrible accident through one stupid choice one night. Then what it looked like for everybody else involved."

"The thing with... Jordan is he's relatable because he's just like any other other kid there that's sitting in that auditorium... and I'm also relatable as the mum."

"[Through Jordan they're shown] this great kid that made this one stupid choice that could be any of those kids. Any of them."

Melissa says her talks are so powerful because she's the "perpetrator's mother."

The guilt of her son's actions have weighed so heavily on Melissa that she often felt like she "didn't have a right to grieve her son".

"Those kids were innocent kids, they were doing nothing wrong and my son behaved 100 percent irresponsibly and was completely responsible for their deaths."

SOURCE: YOU CHOOSE / MELISSA MCGUINNESS

Each time Melissa talks to a group of kids, it gets a little easier for her. It gets easier to watch footage from the crash, and somehow, it gets easier to watch footage of Jordan's then 10-year-old sister breaking down at the memorial service.

But one thing doesn't change. The reaction from the kids she's speaking to. Melissa says that no matter the type of school or the age of the kids, with very little encouragement, the kids always swarm her with hugs at the end of her speech. In most instances, she says, the instigator is usually the "biggest dirtbag in the room"

"I have a remarkable story to tell. It's the worst story. And I feel really compelled to share that with teenage kids," she told 9now.

"This is what is left behind: Here is the mum that has to attend your funeral, has to pick up the pieces. That car can become your own coffin."

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

via Pixabay

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The answer lies in Girls Inc., a national nonprofit serving girls ages 5-18 in more than 350 cities across North America. Since first forming in 1864 to serve girls and young women who were experiencing upheaval in the aftermath of the Civil War, they've been on a mission to inspire girls to kick butt and step into leadership roles — today and in the future.

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Photo courtesy of Macy's

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In 2020, Macy's helped raise $1.3 million in support of their STEM and college and career readiness programming for more than 26,000 girls. In fact, according to a recent study, Girls Inc. girls are significantly more likely than their peers to enjoy math and science, to be interested in STEM careers, and to perform better on standardized math tests.

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