ST. JOHN -- A man with a four-inch black pompadour, dressed in a hot pink shirt and a black checkered jacket, exhorted fifth-graders at Kolling Elementary to stay off drugs, stay away from cigarettes and alcohol. and never lose sight of their dreams.
This Elvis-lookalike was Retro Bill, also known as Bill Russ Jr., and he was the guest speaker for Kolling's DARE graduation. Five fifth-grade classes received certificates in front of their parents and teachers and Retro Bill for 17 weeks of participation in the school's Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, led by St. John DARE Officer Eric Andersen.
St. John the Evangelist had its own DARE graduation at 7 p.m. Tuesday, with Russ and the school's DARE officer Jim Turturillo in attendance.
Russ, an actor, director, writer and producer living and working in Hollywood, spent $250,000 of his own money to produce the "Safety Tips" video shown nationwide.
"Because I believe in the program," he said, before launching into a dramatic demonstration that involved beer, chewing tobacco and a blender.
"This is your body," he said, showing the clean blender to his young audience.
He then mixed the beer and tobacco together in the blender.
"It's disgusting, isn't it?" he said.
Russ then pointed to the garbage can nearby and said, "Garbage comes in all shapes and sizes. But the nice thing about garbage cans is that they have wheels on them, and we can wheel them out of our lives."
Drugs can keep a person from reaching their dreams, said Russ, who began his life in Aurora, Ill., and now counts Arnold Schwarzenegger and Steven Spielberg among his friends.
"People ask me how I reached my dreams, and I tell them, 'Because I didn't take drugs, I didn't smoke cigarettes, I didn't drink alcohol.' "
Instead of negative choices, a person can fill up his life with positive choices, he added.
"The most powerful person in the world is you," he said, displaying a mirror. "You have the power to make your dreams come true. The universe is generous. It gives us 365 days a year to be our best."
"(Retro Bill) was pretty cool," fifth-grader Beau Butcher, 11, said after the program. "I liked what he said, about not doing drugs."
Beau and other fifth-graders had 17 weeks of learning not only to say no to drugs, but to make good decisions, Andersen said.
"It's not just a 'say no to drugs' program. It's about staying away from violence, dealing with bullies, building self-esteem and dealing with life's problems," he said.