Jeff Yalden, former Mr. New Hampshire Male America and Male America's "Mr. Personality," will be the first speaker at the Glacier Valley Rotary Club's 18th annual Pillars of America Speaker Series, which starts on Wednesday at Centennial Hall.
Lunch is included. Tickets are available at both locations of Hearthside Books.
As a teenager, Yalden, now 39, lost interest in high school academics. He took the SATs twice and scored only 610 out of a possible 1600. He suffered from a stutter, a facial tic, bad acne and a learning disability. He said he was only rejected in the classroom.
"I was rejected because I was an athlete and a good one," he said. "I wasn't as smart as the other students, and that, too, is also where I felt inadequate, but I was constantly working hard at sports and social life so nothing else really mattered."
Yalden graduated from high school 128th in a class of 133. Although he was accepted by three of the 19 colleges to which he applied, he was afraid to attend college for fear of rejection, failure and inadequacy.
After high school, Yalden, finally fed up, entered and won the Mr. New Hampshire Male America and later Male America's "Mr. Personality." A year later, he enlisted with the Marine Corp where he quickly learned the virtue of self-reliance and teamwork. Yalden became a two-time Marine of the Year and played for the All-Marine-Corp basketball team.
Unfortunately, a failed relationship sent Yalden spiraling down into his old ways, and he soon was hospitalized with depression and suicidal tendencies. After an honorable discharge from the Marines, he realized his destiny was solely up to him and reached deep inside himself for the fortitude and character to make powerful, life-transforming choices. He then went on to become a high school teacher and basketball and soccer coach.
What helped Yalden overcome his fear was focusing on his strengths, he said.
"I am not your typical learner and can't work in a corporate environment," Yalden said. "I work with teens, and that is what I am good at. I focus on who I am not what others want me to be. It's my character not my reputation."
Today, Yalden works to help youth transform their own lives through his work as an accomplished author, public speaker and television personality. He is the author of "Keep It Simple, 20 Ways to Keep It Simple," "Traits of a Leader" and his latest book, "They Call Me Coach." Yalden also contributed to the bestselling "A Cup of Chicken Soup for the Soul" and co-authored "Lead Now or Step Aside."
As a Certified Speaking Professional, he earned the highest designation given by the National Speakers Association, a distinction earned by less than 10 percent of all speakers. Seventy million viewers have watched Yalden in action on MTV's longest-running reality show, "Made."
"I love my work today and feel that the older I get the better educator and teacher I am," he said. "It is great relating to the teens and I enjoy thoroughly my visits and time with them."
On Wednesday, Yalden will talk about self-respect, character, choices, responsibility and life.
"It will be a heartfelt message that will make teens think," he said. "I promise you that they will leave thinking that was the most defining point of their lives up until this very moment."
If Yalden could give any sort of advice to youngsters today, he would teach them about self-respect.
"Live more by your character than your reputation," he said. "Challenge yourself, and no matter how bad life can be, don't ever stop believing in yourself and what you are capable of doing. Also, to live life with attitude, gratitude and acceptance."
Yalden lives in Cape Cod, Mass., with his wife Marsha and his two teenage daughters. He said he is honored and grateful to be in Alaska working with teens.
"This is a great opportunity for me and I know it will be for them too," he said.
The Pillars of America Speaker Series also will include Iditarod musher Martin Buser speaking on April 28 and former Olympic aerial skier Nikki Stone speaking on May 5.