This story is part of Newsday’s 2019 Extraordinary Seniors series showcasing 16 high school students from across Long Island with the vision and determination to transform their corners of the universe — and perhaps beyond. Click here to read more.
Keeley Lennon wants others to know that they are not alone when it comes to dealing with friends and loved ones who suffer from addiction.
Lennon, 17, a senior at Hampton Bays High School, regularly speaks to her classmates about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse by using examples from her own life. Lennon’s father, a former high school art teacher and lifeguard, died last year after struggling with alcohol and drug addiction. Living through that experience spurred her to become more active in the Hampton Bays community, helping educate others who may be struggling with substance abuse in their own families.
“Addiction starts as a choice, but … it kind of takes over,” she said. “You can hate the disease but still love the person.”
Lennon developed an anti-drug program called “Addiction Is A Disease! Stop the Stigma!” to speak regularly to health classes in her high school, urging classmates to seek help for friends or family members who suffer from addiction. She begins sessions by playing the song "Unsteady," by X Ambassadors, a song she said aligns with the themes of addiction she discusses. Lennon said the program is therapeutic for her and enables her to use her experience to help others.
“It makes me feel better to get it out instead of keeping it in,” she said. “And giving awareness to people, too, which is a good thing.”
Lennon was one of seven students in the county to win a Suffolk County PAL Youth Citizenship award for her presentations; she also was awarded a Suffolk County PAL Youth Achievement award.
Aside from educating students about addiction, Lennon manages her school’s varsity cheerleading team alongside coach Katie Drohan. (Lennon had been a member of the squad until knee surgery in her freshman year prevented her from continuing.) As student manager, she helps take notes, plays music during practices and assists Drohan.
“I see her as a very gritty young woman,” Drohan said. “[For] a girl so young to have gone through such an experience and to be willing to share that with the world and with people in order to help them is, to me, something that not many adults would do."
Drohan, who has known Keeley throughout her high school career, said she was also impressed by Keeley's eagerness to not only be a member of the varsity squad, but to work with younger students as a volunteer coach in the district’s PAL youth cheerleading program.
Lennon said she plans to major in biology and minor in addiction studies in college so she can continue to help others to understand the dangers of addiction.
“She really has those leadership skills where she goes out and uses her voice and uses her knowledge to really help out people in her community,” Drohan said.
HIGHER ED: Lennon will attend Suffolk County Community College and major in biology; ultimately she would like to become an orthopedic surgeon.
FRESHMAN YEAR: "I guess I’m most looking forward to making new friends and new experiences. It’s exciting because I can experience new things going into the real world.”
IF I RULED THE WORLD “There have been so many deaths recently regarding drugs, so if the medical profession can slowly cut down on prescriptions … then maybe less people would get addicted.”