(Editor's note: Michelle DelRocco wrote this paper for her college English class. She not only earned an excellent grade, but received an Overachievement in Excellence in English Award as well. For more on Matt's Mission Fund, be sure to like its Facebook page.)
Is it worth risking your life for just 10 whole seconds of “fun”? Risking yourself, the people in your car, others on the road? Is it really worth it? For this paper I wanted to talk about the awareness of reckless driving, and how it’s so significant to make a difference. Speeding and careless driving is a sensitive subject in my hometown. However we are all trying to move past it and help make it clear how much of a danger driving can be. People need to be aware, they need to hear real life experiences, and they need to think before they act. I lost my friend 3 years ago, and I now realize the dangers of driving.
In May 2009, the little town of North Branford faced a tragedy that was extremely difficult for the citizens to handle. A son, a brother, and a friend to many, lost his life in a violent car crash. It was only 3 weeks before his high school graduation. Matt was driving down a winding road in our town, playing a racing game. The road is known for people “getting air” off of it, which means that teens will speed over the hills and curves so that all four tires are in the air. However, people think twice now before pressing their foot on the accelerator. There were two other people in the car, both survived. Unfortunately for my friend, he did not conquer this battle. It was a reality check for our entire community. No one ever thinks it could be their son, or their daughter, or their friend, which is why his mother, Lynn Riordan, is doing everything and anything she can to make a difference—Not only for everyone in our community, but for Matt.
I’m very close to Matt’s family; I have been for a long time. One of his three sisters was in my graduating class and we’ve been best friends for years now. His mother Lynn Riordan, took Matt’s accident not only has a terrible tragedy, but also, as a way to raise awareness for other teen drivers, and families. A month after the accident, Lynn created a walk in memory of Matt: “The Slow Down for Matt Picciuto Walk.” What we did was walk 18 laps around our high school track, and at the event, Lynn spoke in honor of her son. Soon after that, Lynn created an organization called, “Matt’s Mission Fund”.
Matt’s Mission is “To raise funds to aide local students in need; to encourage everyone to slow down and drive safe while raising awareness to the consequences of destructive driving decisions.” Should you speed down the road? Should you play silly games just to have fun for a matter of 10 seconds? Or shouldn’t you? In Matt’s yearbook, he had written in his senior statement, ‘Go to college, get a job, get married, have children, make a difference and live an interesting life,’ so that is what his mother is doing. Everything that is done for Matt’s Mission Fund is, in someway, making a difference in someone’s life, whether it’s people who are dealing with financial issues, or any other life struggles.
After Matt’s death, it brought our entire community together. Lynn made a sign that is in our senior parking lot that reads ‘SLOW DOWN, DRIVE SAFE always remember… Matthew Picciuto 1991 – 2009. We gave out key chains, and wristbands that I wear everyday that say, “Slow down for Matt Picciuto”. It’s simple reminders like those that really make you think. This is a reality check for people who think they should speed out of the parking lot. Nothing is that important that you have to excessively speed, it can wait, but your life cannot. People fail to realize this, but with the help of Lynn and Matt’s Mission Fund, it is becoming more and more clear.
Every year, near the day of Matt’s death, Lynn holds a 5k race. The race takes place on our high school track, and goes around the town of North Branford, going through Matthew’s crash site. . She thanks everyone for all of their continuous support, and love. Lynn also does a scholarship fund for the seniors every year. She picks three students who she thinks deserves the honor of receiving The Matt Picciuto Scholarship. I was one of the lucky three that was awarded this scholarship last year. I could not be any more proud of accepting that award.
Matt’s mother, Lynn, is a role model of mine. The fact that she hasn’t let grief and depression over Matt’s death overwhelm her is admirable. Of course she is grieving everyday over her son’s death, but she is taking the grieving and putting it towards positive things! She is taking it, and making a difference in MANY people’s lives-including my own. She is probably one of the most caring, positive, and intelligent people I have ever met. Not to mention the strongest person I know. She has acted like a mother to me, and I know that I could always confide in her. Matt’s death has affected everyone, and Lynn is making sure that each and every person realizes what to do to prevent grief for his or her family.
Every month, she goes to local driving schools and speaks to the young drivers and parents about her story. She speaks to them about the consequences that could occur from making life-risking decisions behind the wheel. She talks to them not to scare them, but to make them realize and understand that it’s not a joke. I truly hope I can be like her one day, and I also hope that people who have suffered through a tragedy can resemble Lynn’s actions and ways of grieving. Yes, everyone needs times when they have to grieve, but for the rest of the time, do something about it! Make a difference!
I admire Lynn and her attitude towards life, so I decided to interview her and ask her some questions! The first question I asked her was, ‘how do you think Matt's Mission Fund is impacting everyone and our community as a whole?’ She responded with, “Honestly, I hope the greatest life lesson that Matt’s Mission Fund has to offer is that bad things happen in life. When the tornado hits and we are knocked to our needs, we have a choice to sink or swim. I want everyone to see that I have chosen to swim. I want everyone to know, if I could make that choice after losing a son then they could to if their life experience warrants.” Lynn, like I said, is one of the strongest people I know. What she does everyday for her son, and for our community, is out of this world. All she wants to do is make a difference for her son, and all of us in North Branford are on her team! Another question I had asked was, ‘do you believe that teens are listening to your story and are changing their ways?’ She responded, “I know teens are listening. Regardless of the venue, you can hear a pin drop when I speak. Will they remember and take my son and our story with them in to their future is my concern. This is why I say; Maturity has more to do with what types of experiences you’ve had, and what you learned from them and less to do with how many birthdays you have had. I then ask everyone to learn from my experience. That is all I can do.” By asking Lynn this question, I wanted to see from her point of view if she thought teens were actually listening and if she saw any changes.
When Lynn tells her story to people, they connect. It’s not just like listening to some boring lady lecture; it’s a real situation that can happen to ANYONE. The last question I decided to ask her was, ‘what do you have to say to teens about reckless driving?’ She said, “What else can I do except pray that our loss with be their gain. There is nothing I can say or do if kids still go out and make bad choices. Last night while speaking for MADD (Mother’s Against Destructive Driving) I said, “I want you all to think, should I or shouldn’t I”. I tell my story so hopefully kids will do just that. I always say, “imagine your mom on one shoulder and your dad on the other, no one will know, but it just might help you make the right choice," said Lynn Riordan.
Matt may have made the wrong decision that day, but it wasn’t because his parents didn’t educate him enough, because what parent thinks that their child is going to act stupid like that? It was his decision, but no one is angry with him; disappointed maybe, but it does not change the way we think of him every single day. Drive safe everyone and just think about it. Should I or shouldn’t I?