Cory Greenwood laid his pride aside Wednesday as he addressed students at the Pendleton Convention Center.
As a motivational speaker, Greenwood regularly tears himself down to inspire kids in those tough formative years. As an insecure, unfocused and irresponsible teenager, he had bullied others to make up for the attention he wasn’t getting from his unaffectionate father. He became a teenage father himself.
No more, though. The Minnesota native now travels the country giving kids the message that they can make a positive impact on the world just by becoming comfortable in their own skin.
The young audience at the 28th Annual Attitudes for Success Youth Leadership Conference alternated between hilarity and rapt attention.
He psychoanalyzed his former bully self.
“I tore people apart and belittled them, thinking the smaller I could make people feel, the bigger I would feel,” he said. “I felt big and tough for a second, but at night, I felt even smaller.”
The keynote address came halfway through the conference, attended by about 350 students in grades 6-12 from Umatilla and Morrow counties. They came to learn leadership skills and explore career ideas. The students attended breakout sessions on a smörgåsbord of subjects: various careers, goal setting, communicating feelings, college admission and stress management.
Some of the students listening to Greenwood wore ties and other business attire. Greenwood wandered among them as he told his tale.
Greenwood’s turning point came after the suicide death of his father. The elder Greenwood had reached out to Cory and expressed regret at not being there for his son, but Cory wasn’t ready to let go of his anger. Then, one day, Greenwood missed a phone call from his dad.
“I just wanted you to know that I always loved you,” the voice mail said.
Something in his dad’s voice alarmed Greenwood. He rushed to his father’s shop, but no one was there. He kept calling his dad’s cell phone. Finally, his dad picked up.
“It’s too late,” he said.
Shortly after, his father shot himself in the head. The death shook Greenwood, but sparked change.
“I was 22 when I decided to be the best me,” Greenwood said. “The first thing I had to do was forgive myself for my mistakes. Then I had to forgive the people who hurt me.”
He forgave his father and the teacher who told him he would end up smoking crack on his mother’s porch. He developed confidence.
“I had to decide to be me,” he told the students. “It is your responsibility to be you. I wasted so much of my potential, but you don’t have to.”
After the keynote, Patricia Dawson, OSU Extension agent in 4-H programs, handed waters and lunches to students who filed by. She is a fan of the conference, which OSU Extension sponsors along with the Schamp Family, the Oregon Community Foundation, Good Shepherd Community Foundation, Wildhorse Foundation, Portland General Electric and the Umatilla County 4-H Youth Program.
“The overall objective is to inspire students to take positive life avenues,” she said.
She said the program received a National Diversity Award this past November from the Association of Public Land Grant Universities and the United States Department of Agriculture.
Contact Kathy Aney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0810.