Inspired by Tragedy to Make a Difference: One Millennial’s Story

Five years ago, the NTSB held its first event focused exclusively on teen driver safety. The goal was to save lives by empowering young people to develop and lead traffic safety education projects, support law enforcement efforts, and advocate for effective legislation to protect teen drivers. Ultimately, we want to help develop youth leaders to be ambassadors for safety.

At that first event, our NTSB safety advocates met an outgoing, driven young man named Rick who described to them why he became a youth ambassador for safety. As the NTSB does its part to celebrate Global Youth Traffic Safety Month, we wanted to share his story with you – in his own words:

I’m a Millennial, and I wear this as a badge of honor. There are hundreds of books, thousands of articles, and millions of opinions on how to best work with my unique generation. In ways, we’ve stumped our bosses because we aren’t motivated by traditional workplace incentives; instead, Millennials are driven by passion. We want to see the value in what we do. We want to know that our work is building to a better world.

As I catch up with friends from college, we spend a lot of time talking about our careers. Many are in the private sector, building apartment complexes or managing stock options; others are in education, working on Master’s degrees, or attending medical conferences. I talk about my deep love for transportation safety. “Rick, what exactly do you do?” is a common question (that some of my friends and even my mother are still trying to figure out). My answer is simple: I have the best job in the world. As the director of Strategic Partnerships for Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), I work to build SADD’s capacity at all levels in order to fulfill our mission and build meaningful, lasting relationships.

SADD was founded 35 years ago in the wake of a series of alcohol-related crashes that claimed several teen lives. The young people in Wayland, Massachusetts, rallied together to unite their voices and say “enough is enough!” They realized that if they were going to change the statistics, they themselves needed to speak up and act. Now, three-and-a-half decades later, SADD is a youth health and safety organization with thousands of chapters in middle schools and high schools across the country.

I joined SADD in high school. My chapter was a safe space, where teens could be teens with others that shared a central set of values. To this day, I cherish these friendships. My junior year, however, our mission became very real as I lost a close friend in a horrific crash. Nick’s death changed my school, my community, and me. The tears we shed were completely preventable. Nick should have been in our Homecoming group. He should have been in school bartering with the lunch ladies, and he should have been six spots behind me at graduation. In that moment, the story of SADD became my story. I wanted no other parent, school, or teen to feel the loss we felt.

In my freshman year of college, I was humbled to be selected as the SADD National Student of the Year. For the first time, I saw SADD turn from a passion into a real career option. I was fortunate enough to attend the NTSB Youth Open House representing SADD, where I networked with other youth leaders and professionals from across the country. In the room were dozens of committed professionals who found their way to transportation safety through a variety of paths. Yet, all shared a common thread: they loved what they did, maybe not every day, but their passion was rooted in a deep understanding of the problems they were solving.

The traffic safety field is small enough to form meaningful acquaintances that blossom into life-long friendships, but it is large enough to always look toward the next frontier. I found a space that truly values me as a young professional and supports me in my personal and professional growth.

In December 2015, the NTSB joined with SADD to launch a symposium event that expanded the definition of impaired driving. As I left the NTSB boardroom that day, I smiled. I realized that I was leaving the room where I decided to start my career. It all started with the NTSB Open House just a few years prior.

I’ve taken my passion and turned it into a career. Now, as I work with youth leaders across the country, as the Director of Strategic Partnerships at SADD, I always make sure I mention how much I love my job. Why? Because you never know when the next great engineer, highway safety specialist, grant writer, public information officer, or advocate could be standing in front of you. You never know which SADD student could invent the next generation air bag, create the next highway safety slogan, or advocate for the next life-changing legislation. That’s what motivates me. What motivates you?

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