Speaker hopes to give SIUC ‘Courage to Care’

By Gus Bode

Carloyn Cornelison speaks about personal experiences with alcohol

Carolyn Cornelison needed to quit drinking.

With an allergy to alcohol, it was important that Cornelison ended her serious drinking habit before it ended her life. But none of her friends had the courage to confront her.

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Recalling the college days when she had a problem with substance abuse, Cornelison began her series of lectures, one of which, “A Courage to Care” will visit Wednesday in Student Center Ballroom A at 7 p.m.

The lecture addresses several issues pertaining to substance abuse and how to confront the problem in a friend.

Seventy-five percent of college students are moderate or non-drinkers, but 25 percent need to learn to drink responsibly, and 8 percent of that population needs to stop drinking, Cornelison said.

As a sophomore in college, Corenelison found herself to be in that 8 percent. A member of the softball team and a sorority, she had a good number of friends, a healthy social life and was quite content. The social gatherings that she attended consisted of the usual harmless fun but often included alcohol as well.

When recalling her first experience with the substance as a college freshman, she does not mention heavy peer pressure as a cause. In fact, she thought nothing of it when her friends told her they were going to prepare her a drink. She accepted without consideration of the repercussions it would have on her future, including a car wreck and two alcohol-related arrests.

“Friends play a vital role in how a person handles alcohol,” Cornelison said. “A lot of people are afraid to speak up, or even believe the embarrassment of being drunk will prevent the person from doing it again. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.”

Despite the seriousness of these events, it was not her own misfortune, but, instead that of a friend that provided her with the necessary wakeup call. Cornelison often recalls the event during her sophomore year in college in which she received a call from a sorority sister concerning a fellow sister who had recently been in an accident.

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“Oh, Carolyn, we always thought it would be you,” her friend said.

The words of her friend have stuck in her mind to this day, becoming a theme for her “Courage to Care” programs. Through this series of programs, sponsored by Anheuser-Busch Companies, Cornelison speaks on the importance of realizing the presence of substance abuse.

The focus on “positive peer influence” is one aspect that encouraged Coordinator of Student Services Kristina Therriault to select Carolyn Cornelison.

Each year, the Athletics Department provides a series of informative speakers to new athletes. The fact that they had a national speaker this year as well as encouragement from sponsors, prompted Therriault to open the program up to the entire campus.

“I saw a tape of her presentation and I was impressed,” Therriault said. “It’s not just a program saying you shouldn’t do this and you shouldn’t do that. It’s very unique.”

Despite the lack of a strong lecture format, Cornelison said her message is an important one for college students to hear.

“The program is great for college students because they can relate to the stories I tell,” Cornelison said. “College is a time when people have the opportunity to make their own decisions and this freedom often adds to risk. [The message] makes students think, ‘I’m not going to let anything happen to my friends.'”

With the importance of the issue in mind, Cornelison has devoted her time to presentations at more than 400 campuses across the country.

Cornelison’s dedication to the matter has earned her several awards, including Who’s Who Among Colleges and Universities, an award from Florida and Georgia State Universities and Outstanding Alumni Award from Southern Mississippi University. But she takes the most pride in being able to help prevent the possible tragedy that can result from alcohol abuse.

“A lot of people are scared about how they’re going to approach their friends about the issue, ” Cornelison said. “One of the most important things I want to teach my audience is that the only thing you can do wrong is to ignore the problem.”

Jessica Yorama can be reached at [email protected]

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