Editor’s Note: This article was published in the May 29, 1986 edition of the Daily Nexus as part of a “Sober Graduation” campaign. The movement at UCSB was a predecessor for similar ones across the United States and in Canada.
By Heidi Soltesz
As graduation time draws near, college and high school students prepare for a new phase of their lives – one that could be cut short by drunk driving.
That was the message of the rally for a “Sober Graduation” in Storke Plaza yesterday. The event, sponsored by Students Teaching Alcohol/Drug Responsibility, Associated Students Program Board and the California Highway Patrol, drew a crowd of more than 300 students to hear speeches geared toward promoting accountability, not abstinence, in graduation celebrations.
CHP Public Affairs Officer Tom Campbell said the Sober Graduation campaign his organization is sponsoring is “one of the most exciting things” he has been a part of. It is special, Campbell said, because “students take it over and do it themselves.”
“It’s really tough to see young people injured, maimed or killed in traffic accidents,” he said, explaining that 15 to 24 and especially 21-year-olds are the prime target for alcohol-related accidents.
The awareness campaign UCSB is participating in is now a forerunner for similar campaigns nationwide and in Canada, Campbell said. Because one in three people will be injured in an accident and one in 140 will die, “we are doing whatever we can to bring that number down and eliminate it,” he said.
“I guess I’m here to talk you out of drinking and driving,” actor John Travolta said. Travolta is helping publicize the Sober Graduation campaign and appeared at two area high schools before speaking on campus yesterday.
Travolta related a personal experience of about a year ago. He said he went bowling in Goleta, had a few beers and then tried to drive home. A policeman pulled him over, asked if he had been drinking and Travolta said he had only one beer. “He turned into Uncle Gepetto and I was Pinocchio,” Travolta said. “He could tell I was lying.”
Travolta passed a roadside sobriety test but “realized I could dance, I could talk, I could count backward from 100, but I couldn’t drive [after drinking].”
UCSB junior Mark Campe also shared his experiences of driving under the influence. Campe was driving home from a bar when he was signaled to pull over by a patrolman and then converged on by two additional cars. “They said, ‘you’re going to take the test.’ And I thought, ‘What? Are you kidding, I’m all done with midterms,'” Campe quipped.
He was arrested on the suspicion of drunk driving, handcuffed and locked into a patrol car. “That’s where the jokes stop and the horror stories begin,” he said. “[Jail] was the pit of my depression.”
After his arrest, Campe said he felt like a criminal. The $1,000 fine, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and DUI classes he was submitted to were bearable, he said, but “nothing was sinking in more than the fact that I was in jail.”
“I learned two things. Number one, I never want to feel like a criminal again, and that’s what you are because you have committed a crime,” he said. “And number two, I never want to drink and drive because not only can you get caught, but you can kill somebody.”
Campe gave a lighthearted tribute to Travolta also intended as a serious proposition to his peers. “Let’s remember two words this graduation – Stayin’ Alive,” he said.
Although the crowd expressed an interest in seeing Travolta, they were also intent on the massage of the rally. “The reason I came is that basically I’m just concerned about the issue,” graduating senior Jin Wagenseller said.
“It was just really good to see all of these people out here,” Wagenseller said. “It just shows that all of this publicity is rubbing off on people and that Sober Graduation may cut down on a few deaths. It’s as simple as that.”
“I thought it was really good that Mark came down and gave his view as a student because a lot of people don’t realize what it takes to put you over the legal limit,” said STAR member T.K. Hayes, a UCSB senior. “Probably the most beneficial thing is for people to see what happens.”
Campe said he decided to speak as soon as be was approached by STAR because “it’s unfortunate that people don’t realize how important it is not to drink and drive.”
“For years we’ve had stereotypes that it’s okay to go out and drink and then drive,” he said. “Our attitudes are going to have to change.”
STAR had a table set up before and during the event to provide students with information about both the legal and physical repercussions of driving under the influence. Charts showed the penalties for first and second time DUI offenses which included fines as high as $1,700, a three year probation period, license restriction, time in jail and mandatory alcohol education sessions.
Other charts showed the effects of alcohol on brain functioning, blood alcohol content in relation to weight, time and number of drinks and statistics on alcohol-related accidents.
Students were also given the opportunity to sign a “Contract For Life” with a friend pledging they would not drive under the influence, but seek alternate means of transportation.
STAR member Eric Wishan said the response to the contracts and the event as a whole was very positive.
“I think it was great…We were impressed with how many people showed up,” he said. “People were super about signing the contracts…real aware of the problems associated with drinking and driving.”