Bigger audience: Students selected for conference in Washington

Seymour High School senior Gunnar Ortlieb wears many hats, and one of those hats has earned him a bit of recognition.

As part of his efforts as a member of Students Against Destructive Decisions, the 18-year-old was selected along with 19 other students from a pool of thousands across the United States to attend the SADD SPEAKs, or Students for Policy, Education, Advocacy & Knowledge, program in Washington, D.C.

Ortlieb will meet with students representing 17 states as part of the program, which aims to hone the leadership skills of students and offer them a chance to demonstrate these skills through national speaking opportunities, authoring guests blogs and through SADD national social media channel as well as other outlets.

The conference in Washington, D.C., will run from July 23 to 27 and be offered at no cost to the participants.

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After an initial settle-in time, the conference will offer training sessions on a variety of subjects and visits to the U.S. Capitol to speak with members of the government.

“It’s going to be busy, but I want to accomplish as much as possible as opposed to getting a glorified vacation,” Ortlieb said.

He said the goal of the conference is to help teach students how things work at a national level for policymaking and to give participants reasonable expectations for the feasibility of the programs they hope to see take effect.

“Basically, it’s teaching us how we can make the changes we want to see in the future,” Ortlieb said.

He said he hopes to learn skills that he can implement in Jackson County and offer insight for the other students in the SADD program.

“Door after door keeps opening for these kids,” School Resource Officer Keith Williams said.

Williams, adviser for the SADD program at Seymour High School, said he was proud of the amount of work they’ve done for this.

Ortlieb said he sees SADD as a program with a goal of developing future leaders that can make a difference in their communities and helping them to make smart decisions.

“We know we can’t completely stop drugs or crime, but we are trying to help students understand that there are better ways, making them better people,” Williams said.

Ortlieb was selected through an application process that required writing an essay and obtaining a letter of recommendation from Williams.

The opportunity to attend the conference was brought up by Indiana SADD coordinator Brian Sappenfield in one of Ortlieb and Williams’ numerous conversations with him.

“The program is actually only open to juniors. They had to make a special exception for me to attend, which is just a great opportunity,” Ortlieb said.

SADD was founded more than 35 years ago focusing on dealing with impaired driving, especially underage impaired driving. The Seymour High School chapter of what was then known as Students Against Drunk Driving was formed in the spring of 1988 by nearly two dozen students.

SADD has been among the organizers of the annual Rule the Road defensive driving course for teenagers at Freeman Municipal Airport.

In addition, the group has worked with Turning Point Domestic Violence Services to conduct programs aimed at eliminating domestic and dating violence.

The students of SADD also created and entered a video in a competition conducted by End Distracted Driving, and it is among the top three videos at the national level, Williams said.

“We want to have an organization that affects the community,” Williams said.

Ortlieb said collaboration is the key to SADD’s goals.

Williams said the students are the ones who deserve all of the praise for their efforts in creating and running the program, which is in its pilot year at the school as Students Against Destructive Decisions.

Ortlieb plans on attending Indiana University and majoring in elementary education, and he wants to use that to get a degree in administrative education and supervision.

He will take the lessons he has learned from SADD with him.

“Gunnar is extremely humble,” Williams said. “He left out that they in addition to his recognition by his selection for SADD SPEAKs, he was also approached about expanding SADD’s efforts to the university level.”

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Aaron Piper is a photographer and reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at apiper@tribtown.com or 812-523-7057.