By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News
CITY OF TONAWANDA — In the midst of a week marked by athletic rivalry at Tonawanda Middle and High School, motivational speaker Andy Thibodeau visited the school with a different theme to share — one of caring.
“The message is show up, participate and listen,” he told the students. “And having a reputation of being nice is a wonderful thing.”
Thibodeau, of London, Ontario, has been traveling around the country for 20 years with his humorous, yet meaningful presentations and Wednesday morning, he was the star in the first assembly with students from grades six to 12 at the new, combined facility.
Thibodeau tied his theme of “Share the Care” into the big T-NT game Friday, frequently referencing the week’s events and encouraging the students to make a “warrior” grunt loud enough for North Tonawanda to hear.
“Have them wondering what’s coming Friday,” he said.
But despite all the fanfare surrounding the game, Thibodeau made sure not to ignore other sports and school activities, and told the students to do the same.
“It’s easy to ask someone how the season’s going, like the cross country team. That’s stuff is not easy ... crappy weather and no fans,” he joked.
Thibodeau told students to go to the school musical, take part in school activities and support peers’ passions, too.
“I’ve yet to meet a teenager that doesn’t care about their band, or their performers,” he said.
Thibodeau said his father died two years ago and, at the funeral, he counted 33 people from high school that came to support him.
“So love your performers,” he said. “But also love your performers who are right here at your school, too.”
Middle and High School Principal Dr. James Newton heard about Thibodeau at a conference where he spoke.
“I loved how he had the students get up and participate, and how they got to do activities,” Newton said.
The students, dressed in maroon Tonawanda anti-bullying shirts, also enjoyed the speech. Many rushed up to him after the speech, asking Thibodeau for autographs and sharing some of their own stories.
Thibodeau has a proven track record and got started in the business as an aspiring teacher in 1992. At the time, he was giving free presentations to 8th-graders on preparing for high school.
“I wasn’t a motivational speaker, and I wasn’t realizing my career would take off,” he said. “It was as simple as someone asking me if I could come to their school, and what I would charge.”
Since then, he has spoken at over 2,000 schools in addition to leadership conferences and the Canadian National Conference.
It was clear Thibodeau has fine-tuned his craft. His stories about his own school days were relatable and funny, and he portrayed himself as somewhat of a nerdy, yet well adjusted boy.
His stories of his first slow dance as a 7th grader with the “nice girl” in class had the audience oohing and clapping.
And Thibodeau’s tale of going to high school with hockey all star Brendan Shanahan, now NHL vice president of hockey and business development, made “nice” look pretty cool.
Shanahan took part in a fundraising activity in which younger students could “buy” older students, putting the seniors at the mercy of younger masters for a day.
Shanahan was the NHL’s second overall draft pick that year and was a hot commodity. Girls fought over him for weeks.
At the event, three slightly awkward preteen girls won Shanahan for $120. The 11-year-olds had no clue what to do or how to talk to the hockey star.
“The girls later told me their first thought was ‘the other girls are going to kill me,’” Thibodeau said. “But you know what Shanahan did? He came off the stage, and he was just so nice ... not only was he nice, he was fun.”
Shanahan happily took part in the days’ activities, wearing a diaper for the day per the girls’ request and picking them up in his car for school, playing whatever music they chose.
At lunch time, Shanahan led the auctionees’ limbo dance in their costumes. Some others acted “too cool,” but not Shanahan.
“And you know what, when he looks back on his yearbook, he will see all of that fun he had by participating,” Thibodeau said. “And fun is such a better memory at my age than ‘it sucks.’ This week is going to be fun, and the rest is up to you.”
Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150.