Unconventional speaker reaches students with energetic messages


Photos by Cynthia Price

by Cynthia Price

Molly Kennedy had a difficult life, beyond what many could imagine, but she turned her experiences into a drive to be the best she can be.

And now she shares that drive with students around the country, in the hope they can understand that they are valuable and have a lot to contribute.

She spoke at four high schools in the Muskegon area last week, including Reeths-Puffer.

Kennedy’s way of telling her story is through catchy wording with a sense of humor.

So, rather than use the “fancy” word paradigm — “I don’t do fancy ,I don’t’ think I got that gene,” she said — she says she substitutes the term “20 cent.”

Get it?

Where she went with that concept, whatever one chooses to call it, is that any person’s outlook shapes not only their attitude and emotional response, but also what they actually do.

“Life is all about perspective and that’s what your ‘20 cent’ is. It only exists in one place,” Kennedy said, pointing to her head. “What you believe is what you get.”

So, she suggested, “You need to ‘flip your 20.’” She later said, reinforced by the huge screen behind her, “Fear is a liar.” She added, “We’re not really afraid, we’re just uncertain of the results. We give fear power over us because of our ‘20 cent.’ We all have stuff, every one of us.”

She went on to talk about her own “stuff.”

Kennedy’s mother was an alcoholic who divorced when Kennedy was one or two. “She would go off to the grocery store, and she would be gone a long time.,” Kennedy said. Fortunately, her grandparents were nearby to help but some years later, her mother remarried a man who was very abusive. Every day was full of challenges, and eventually when Kennedy turned 15, she left home. Her mother never came to look for her.

Appallingly, her mother also sent a letter through her lawyer saying that she was absolved of responsibility for Kennedy’s upbringing. Kennedy eventually found an adult who was willing to take her in, but at enormous cost: the person molested her repeatedly.

The students were rapt. As she told her story, “It was like you could hear a pin drop,” said John Noling of the Rotary Club, who helped Reeths-Puffer students Parker Aerts and Jayme Brantsen make arrangements with Mona Shores, North Muskegon, and Orchard View High Schools to have her speak.

But perhaps the most important reason that Kennedy is such a good speaker is her sense of humor, much of it at her own expense, and the casual way she communicates that she too is an outsider.

She called herself “a short old jacked-up lady,” and challenged a variety of Reeths-Puffer adults to a biceps contest. She teased kids in the audience and told everyone they would get in trouble for laughing at her “inappropriate” jokes.

A measure of Kennedy’s success in reaching students was the long line of kids wanting to take a photo with her (see photo).

After her talk at Reeths-Puffer, Kennedy held a workshop with hands-on activities to help students become leaders and achieve their goals.

More information is available at mollykennedyspeaks.com.