David Flood, a youth motivational speaker who has spoken to more than 400,000 students, came to Severna Park High School (SPHS) on March 20 to speak about dignity, respect and kindness.
Flood previously spoke at the school in 2018 and was invited back by Principal Lindsay Abruzzo after a video taken at SPHS showed a student bullying another student with special needs with threatening, obscene and racist language. Flood is the first speaker the school has hosted since the COVID-19 shutdown and, in many students’ eyes, was a great choice.
“Having the speaker David Flood was amazing; he hit on a lot of great topics like inclusivity and being kind to others,” senior Sierra Lane said. “He is a really great person and had a lot of great insight about special education.”
When asked about SPHS’ specific problem, Flood replied, “It’s very common for schools to go through that, [just] maybe not to be known for a negative reason nationally.”
He said he knew the problems at SPHS were not specific to the school, but rather a bigger problem everyone faces.
“It’s just a general malaise and lack of understanding and lack of kindness to others,” Flood said.
Flood spoke about the three main traits he believes are important to have for others: dignity, respect and kindness. He shared many anecdotes about himself, his family and other schools he visited, often bringing in a sarcastic wit that kept students laughing and engaged.
Flood believes it is instrumental to connect with kids and talk to them in a way they can identify with, which is why he shares stories about his family — his wife, Mary; his youngest child, Sarah; and his oldest, Justin, who is diagnosed with autism.
“Some kids don’t identify with Justin, but some girls might identify with my daughter’s anxiety that she had,” Flood said. “I’ll do anything to connect with a kid.”
A major part of Flood’s message is the effect of loneliness. Not just for people with special needs, but for anyone who feels left out.
After hearing his son’s confession about struggling with loneliness, Flood heard three words that he could not stop thinking about.
“Loneliness is toxic,” Flood repeated to the students. “It doesn’t take too long for someone who lives in social isolation to equate loneliness with danger. Introverted and shy, no problem. It is if you build a wall around yourself.”
He gave students three challenges to help against social isolation: to look on the inside, to thank two adults in the building and to make sure no one ever eats alone.
“No one should have to eat alone,” Flood said. “If you want to eat by yourself and study, read, listen to music or anything else, that’s great, more than great. What I’m really not OK with is someone not offering to sit with that person.”
After the assemblies, Flood had lunch with several students and had a parent talk later that evening, when several parents attended at the encouragement of their kids. The phrase, “Mom, you have to go see him talk,” was common.
No student in the building had heard Flood talk before, but the staff remembered his message, and knew it was important for students to hear.
“My talk is not about autism, guys. It’s not. It’s about inclusion,” Flood said. “It’s about how do I get closer to other people, and maybe more importantly than that, how do I bring people together.”