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Stu Speaks

Stuart & Stuart - The Long Drive Home

Thu, 2017-02-16 15:28

What’s on your mind?

It was September 11th, 2001. I was sleeping comfortably in my bed at the Pepper Mill Inn in Reno, Nevada. The phone was ringing. 6 am. It was my dear friend Andrew Thibodeau calling to ask if I had heard the news? Was I watching the TV? Was I ok? In a groggy state, in a sleepy voice, confused I questioned him, “What are you talking about?” “New York! The World Trade Centre! Turn on your TV.

As I fumbled to find the remote. I felt panic rush through me. That feeling you get in the pit of your stomach as you come over the first hill on a giant roller coaster. As the television warmed up and the picture appeared. The first tower smoking and then I saw it live. The second plane hit. The newscaster, “America is under attack.”

I called the school I was speaking at that morning. “Sorry Stu the school is closed today. We don’t know what’s happening and this is not the day to have an assembly.” I jumped in my rented Ford Explorer and dashed to the airport. Maybe I could grab an early flight home. Get back to my family. To the safety of Canada. I quickly found out I wasn’t getting out early. In fact not at all. I saw the long line-up at the rental car counters. Heard the angry voices, “But I need a car. I have to get home! You must have something!” Looking down at the keys in my hand. I had a rental. I have a way home. I hopped in my SUV and began the long drive home. Reno to Toronto. Almost 3000 miles. Up the West coast to Vancouver then across Canada to Toronto.

Once in my car I turned on the radio. Every channel screaming at me. “We are at war”, “It was the Russians”, “Terrorists!”, “6 more planes missing”.

I listened to the craziness. Watched gas prices rise to 5, 6 dollars a gallon. People I would meet at service centre talking of not trusting their neighbours, how the government should retaliate and who they should attack. I felt sick. I turned off the radio. Called home. No answer. Nothing. I never felt so alone. I drove quietly for hours. Thinking perhaps this could be it. Was this the end of the world? These are the things I was thinking. If you weren’t in America during those first 24 hours you have no idea the terrified panic that gripped an entire nation. I needed to get to British Columbia. Even though I would still be more than 2000 miles from my actual home, being across the boarder I would be safe.

Somehow crossing the 49th parallel would be better than where I was. My head began to race. I turned on the radio again, hoping for some music. No. Every station became all news. Worse was the talk radio. The world was in crisis. I pulled over to stretch, clear my head. Then I remembered. I had brought CD’s with me. A double set of “Vinyl Cafe Stories”. Stuart McLean. I got back behind the wheel. Placed the CD in the slot. The car gobbled it up. Like it wanted to hear something different too! The second the sound of his voice filled my car, I relaxed. My shoulders dropped and my grip loosened on the wheel. I felt ok. I somehow felt safe. I was no longer alone. I had Dave, Morley, Stephanie, Sam and the neighbourhood with me. My car was full. I listened maybe 3 times to every story. I don’t think I would have survived that trip. That insanity without those stories. There we were, Stuart and Stuart driving through the Majestic rockies, the never-ending horizon of the prairies, the beauty and awesomeness of Lake Superior. I was traveling through MY country with the best tour guide I could wish for. Stuart McLean you saved me on that journey. Thank you. I will miss you. You are part of large deposits in my memory bank! We are all better because of you. You deserve an Arthur Award. Perhaps more than anyone else in history. Here are Stuart’s words that express it best…

“We do this thing. We open our hearts to the world around us. And the more we do that, the more we allow ourselves to love, the more we are bound to find ourselves one day - like Dave, and Morley, and Sam, and Stephanie - standing in the kitchen of our life, surrounded by the ones we love, and feeling empty, and alone, and sad, and lost for words, because one of our loved ones, who should be there, is missing. Mother or father, brother or sister, wife or husband, or a dog or cat. It doesn’t really matter. After a while, each death feels like all the deaths, and you stand there like eveyone else has stood there before you, while the big wind of sadness blows around and through you.” – Stuart McLean

Grace, too

Mon, 2016-08-22 11:03

What’s on your mind?

Not sure how to summarize what I experienced last night, August 20th, 2016. There was so much to absorb, so many moments that made it one of the best events I have ever been part of. It was uniquely Canadian. Something special.

My final thoughts on Donald Trump. Why I am retiring from Facebook.

Fri, 2016-03-11 14:39

I am a leadership development guy. I work with tens of thousands of young people every year. I try and help them understand that they have the ability to make their life and the world that they live in better. I try and teach understanding, tolerance, compassion and of course the idea of dreaming BIG. This generation more than ever needs to believe the world can and will heal and become a more humane place.

The Plan for Your STU-pendous 2016

Tue, 2016-01-05 17:32

It’s that time of the year again! The time when we all recommit or start for the first time to figure out how to create that epic life we really want.

Facebook and Twitter are full of motivational quotes, “how-to” videos, and blogs on the 20 steps or 10 actions to create the best year ever! I guess it’s my time to do the same but to do it in a much more ‘real’ way. Here’s what I mean…

A TITANIC Experience

Sat, 2015-12-19 15:25

There’s a crazy stat that says the vast majority of people give up after being turned down just once. They rarely, if ever, ask twice. Let alone 7 times. In fact, most people give up prior to even trying.

Maybe it’s because I am not “smart enough” to understand that it’s my place to say thank you when turned down and move on to something else; something easier. Maybe that’s it.

Try Harder

Mon, 2015-09-14 14:58

This time of the year is simply our busiest in the office. We have SO much going on. We are beginning our fall season at our camps, getting ready for the 37th annual Ontario Student Leadership Conference (OSLC), my 25th year of speaking has begun and of course 2016 YLCC Summer Camp is filling up!


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  • Student Conferences

    We brought 40 students, mostly juniors, and the layout of the conference space and dorm space made our staff feel comfortable with supervision. The college also made it super easy for meals - everything was in the same complex. I HIGHLY recommend trying out this conference for those schools who haven’t yet. Top notch leadership experience!

    ~Bob Kline - Teacher - Huron Heights Secondary School, Kitchener, ON
  • Student Conferences

    Thanks so much for an amazing conference. We’re already looking forward to EOSLC 2018!

    ~Riley McMullen - Tagwi Secondary School - Avonmore, ON
  • Student Conferences

    I want to thank you for giving my students the opportunity to attend EOSLC!! On the drive home, they were discussing how wonderful the speakers were, and the spirit leaders, and the venue, and the whole experience!!!

    I know they have taken with them new insight as to what it means to be a leader! I thank you for that! You must be so proud to have so much positive influence on the youth of tomorrow.

    Thank you, thank you!!

    ~Jennifer Neville -VALOUR SCHOOL - Petawawa
  • Training Centres

    We had such a great time! Your camp is aMazing. The students loved it, and did things they never thought they would have! The slide show at the end was the cherry on top!!!

    ~Amanda - Teacher - Huron Heights Secondary School
  • Stu Speaks

    Students were very engaged, enthusiastic and excited. Stu is hilarious…seriously. “Humour is never a bad thing” said one student.

    ~Annalisa Varano - Vice Principal - St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Secondary School
  • Stu Speaks

    They say a great presenter “leaves them wanting more”. Well, we loved your presentation and the entire team asked me when you will be back! You are truly STUpendous!

    ~Nancy Klensch - Founder of Summit Kids
  • Stu Speaks

    Stu is an energetic, entertaining and dynamic presenter. He captures is audiences’ attention and keeps the room engaged for the entire presentation! His stories in his presentation captures everyone at different points, even the teachers!

    ~Sara Meaney - Cobourg Collegiate Institute
  • Stu Speaks

    Stu was great! Staff and students felt it really broke the anxiety in the building and we even got cupcakes today from one of the students.

    ~Carrie Rowlandson - William Aberhart High School, Calgary Alberta
  • Stu Speaks

    Stu was fantastic. There is nothing better than seeing 600 adolescents laughing their heads off. He delivers a terrific message and has the entire audience engaged, thinking, listening and most importantly laughing within seconds, and he keeps it going for over an hour. Thanks again on behalf of the Shores!!

    ~Doug Woods - Vice Principal, Nantyr Shores Secondary School
  • Stu Speaks

    Stu’s speech did exactly what I hoped it would do when I tried to bring him in: it brought the school together for a good laugh while empowering the student body to be the change they wish to see in their classroom. I feel he hit this goal perfectly.

    ~Steven Fotheringham - Oakville Trafalgar High School
  • Stu Speaks

    I really liked how the speech really just seemed like Stu was telling us funny stories, but he always related it back to the overall message. It didn’t sound like a speech at all, it was as if he was just talking to the crowd. I would say that he is excellent in connecting with the audience and keeping them entertained. There was not a two minute period in Stu’s speech were nobody was laughing. He kept us amused throughout the entire presentation. I thought he was perfect.

    ~James Palloto
  • Stu Speaks

    I would highly recommend Stu, his engaging personality was a real hook for the students and his messages were ones that many of them could identify with. The humour was great and the students shared that they enjoyed the presentation.

    ~Teresa Fowler - W.H. Croxford High School, Airdrie, Alberta
  • Stu Speaks

    Stu is personable. Students are willing to listen to him. They enjoy listening to him. He has a message, but he is also entertaining. He is fun to listen to and students don’t feel talked down to or preached at.

    ~Tanya Lacey - McKinnon Park Secondary School, Caledonia, ON
  • Student Conferences

    OSLC has played a pivotal role in the growth and development of our Student Activities Council leadership group over the 10 years we have been attending. The chance to get away together, bond as a group, meet other awesome leaders and advisors from across the province, and be challenged by some of the best speakers in the world has made a huge impact on the enthusiasm and effectiveness of our leadership program.”

    ~Jeff Gerber, Waterloo Oxford District Secondary School, Baden, Ontario
  • Training Centres

    “Just want to thank the Pigeon Lake YLCC staff for another wonderful experience. My Grade 7 class just returned from their overnight with smiles on their faces and singing ‘pizza man’. I have taken a group for a number of years now and I never tire of the experience. YOU rock!”

  • Youth Camps

    “Thank you Stu and Ornj and the AMAZING counsellors and staff for making the past two weeks amazing for Noah. He sobbed when we left, and can’t wait to return. He showed me his journal and we compared it to last year’s - what a difference a year makes.”

  • Youth Camps

    “Nothing makes my heart sing more, than to see my kids having the most amazing life experiences together. YLCC makes this happen every year. Pure Gold. ‘Thank You’ can’t really cover it …”

  • Youth Camps

    “Thank you for the best summer I have experienced to date. YLCC taught me how to embrace my values and to express opinions. The entire camp and amazing staff believed in me achieving any goal I were to set. “

  • Student Conferences

    OSLC to me is family, period.

    ~Hayley Press
  • Student Conferences

    OSLC showed me through the people I met what it was to be a better leader by how you act and what you do.

    ~Ben Arnold
  • Student Conferences

    OSLC is an experience where you can literally go and see 1000’s of other teens that have the same desire as you to lead and make a change in the world. The energy is electric, the movement is massive and the memories are completely unforgettable. The experience is one you fully cant understand without going there, there is an indescribable and irreplacable feeling that is created there, and it sticks even after you leave.

    ~Brittany Roney
  • Student Conferences

    OSLC changed my life. I have never felt so alive in my entire life. I met so many people who I will be life long friends with. The energy is amazing and the inspiration is indescribable.
    If there was one memory I could remember it would be OSLC.

    ~Maddison F
  • Student Conferences

    I don’t even know how to begin or where to start telling you how amazing OSLC was and how amazing and incredible you are! This event was truly life changing for me and my council, thank you so much for this, for OSLC and for you. You are truly an inspiration and have shown me so much and have lit a fire inside me.

    ~Joshua McCallum, Holy Cross Catholic Secondary School, Strathroy, Ontario
  • Student Conferences

    I have been bringing students to the Ontario Student Leadership Conference for over 10 years. Our students clamour for a spot at the conference because they have heard about it and want to be a part of it. They always come back from the conference excited and motivated to make positive changes in our school and community. The speakers are always world class and the workshops inspire and educate the students, I look forward to being part of this incredible conference for years to come, keep up the great work.

    ~Kyle Pope, Oakville Traflagar High School
  • Student Conferences

    This conference consistently fosters, in the students who attend, a sense of community in leadership that I’ve yet to see generated to this degree anywhere else. Former students have told me, years later, that the OSLC was the highlight of their high school experience. I believe them.

    ~Ross Thomson, Craig Kielburger Secondary School, Milton, Ontario
  • Student Conferences

    I have been attending OSLC a number of years with our Students’ Council Executive. There is no other opportunity that I am able to offer my students that leads to such enthusiasm and ideas for the school year. Many of my students have worked as Spirit Leaders at the conference, and more than once students have told me how OSLC has changed their life. On top of that, OSLC is one of the very few conferences that allow for PD for staff members who work in student leadership. More than once I have had my own commitment to student leadership refreshed through workshops at OSLC.

    ~Tanya Lacey, McKinnon Park Secondary School, Caledonia, Ontario
  • Stu Speaks

    I was at the OCA conference on May 6th, and I just wanted to thank you on being such a wicked keynote… you definitely put me back in the camp mindset and reminded me of what’s truly important about the up-coming summer. Once again, a job very well done.

    ~Emily Summers
  • Stu Speaks

    The students really enjoyed Stu’s humour and low-key but critical message about getting involved and getting the most out of their High School experience. I would recommend Stu as a speaker who relates well to students, is funny, and gets the message out without preaching.

    Thank you,

    ~Lynn Toye