Big motivational speaker makes a big impact on Basalt students |

Big motivational speaker makes a big impact on Basalt students

John Colson
Motivational speaker Jeff Yalden speaks to students Wednesday at Basalt High School. Yalden will speak at Aspen schools today and again tonight to parents at the District Theatre at Aspen Elementary School. (Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times)

In size, style and meaning, the presence and words of motivational speaker Jeff Yalden impressed the students at Basalt High School Wednesday.”At first I thought he was pushing the envelope a little bit, but that was good,” said senior Emily Birk, who was part of the effort to bring Yalden to BHS.”He connected with the kids,” agreed fellow senior Katie Staerkel. “He was entertaining, and at our age, that’s what you need.”Staerkel called Yalden’s presentation “one of the most motivating, if not the most motivating speakers I’ve heard, and I’ve heard my share.” BHS invites a speaker every year to talk to the students.

“It was good,” agreed sophomore Michael Vigil, saying he was impressed by Yalden’s encouragement to “do the best we can. We have to think.”Yalden, 35, reportedly has spoken to thousands of students around the U.S., and numerous websites refer to his work as highly beneficial to the youths he encounters.The Cape Cod, Mass., resident commands anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000 for his appearances, according to the Speakermatch website.The Aspen Youth Center brought him to the Roaring Fork Valley as part of its educational speaker series. He will speak again today for students and parents in Aspen.At 6-foot-1 and 250-plus pounds, Yalden uses his physical presence as much as his powerful voice to make his points with a curious mix of funny anecdotes, moving personal recollections and urgent entreaties to his audience.

Yalden is the father of two teenage daughters, whom he uses in his presentations to sometimes-hilarious effect, pointing out their foibles and failings, as well as his own, like a comedian on a high-speed roll. He followed the humorous remarks with serious suggestions about how teenagers should act around one another, within their families and in the world at large. He cautioned his audience not to “push away the messengers” who offer help and support and not to focus too much on what he termed “the problem [of] acceptance.”The important thing is not to be accepted by others “whose opinions really don’t matter,” he said, but to accept yourself and the help of those around you.Occasionally employing mild profanity and explicit language about sexual issues, Yalden held the rapt attention of the crowd of teens for most of the hour-and-a-half talk, periodically pushing his voice into the upper decibel range and striding animatedly around the gymnasium. To illustrate the idea of “filling up the cup” of one’s life, he poured water into plastic tumblers and let it spill out onto a table and onto the gym floor.The son of an alcoholic father, Yalden had difficulty in school, earned poor marks and was afflicted with depression and suicidal feelings after graduating from high school in 1989, according to his website.But that same year, his life took an upward turn, starting with his being crowned Mr. New Hampshire Male America and, in 1990, his enlistment in the U.S. Marine Corps. He served four years as a Marine before embarking on his speaking career.

Jake Schuss, a sophomore, called Yalden’s talk “inspirational” because “he didn’t speak like all inspirational speakers. He gave it a different approach. He spoke from a kid’s point of view.”Junior Annie Bielinski called him “a no-bullshit, no-excuses type of guy,” while classmate Dayle Duran said, “He was, like, ‘I know what you’ve been through, and this is how I dealt with it.'”Yalden will speak during student assemblies today at Aspen Middle School and Aspen High School, and he will address parents at 6 p.m. at the District Theatre at Aspen Elementary School. Tickets for the evening talks are $12 each, or two for $20. Proceeds benefit the youth center’s programs.John Colson’s e-mail address is

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