OMS eighth-graders get glimpse of district court

52-3 District Judge Julie Nicholson has been talking to middle and high school students about life-altering choices for the past 22 years. Photo by Shelby Tankersley.
52-3 District Judge Julie Nicholson has been talking to middle and high school students about life-altering choices for the past 22 years. Photo by Shelby Tankersley.

A 38-year-old Rochester Hills man was sentenced to jail time and more than $800 in fines for operating a vehicle without a valid license, the latest on a long list of his run-ins with the law.

The man, a single father hoping for probation, was sentenced by 52-3 District Judge Julie Nicholson inside Oxford Middle School on Nov. 29 as eighth-graders watched.

Nicholson does real sentencings like this with a volunteer defendant every year in OMS and surrounding schools in the hopes of keeping students from making life-changing decisions that have the potential to land them behind bars. She spoke with students about drinking, drugs, friends and getting behind the wheel of a car when they shouldn’t.

“We’re talking about critical life choices,” Nicholson said. “We’re talking about decisions that we make, and everybody makes them. Everybody makes critical life decisions in their life, a lot of people make them on a daily basis. Those critical life choices can be good or they can be bad.”

To demonstrate the effects of drunkenness, two students, Jacob Owen and Lilly McDunnat, got on stage with Nicholson to try, and fail, to grab a pen, catch a pen and walk in a straight line while wearing alcohol impairment simulation goggles. The demonstration had the students laughing while giving them an example of how debilitating drunkenness can be.

“It’s important that you keep this in mind: (Driving) is a privilege, not a right,” Nicholson said.

Nicholson also showed the students some archival news footage documenting drunk driving episodes turned fatal. One showed a father and husband going to jail for killing a mother and her children while driving drunk, and another told the story of four high school students who lost their lives because of drunken, speeding driving.

As the students watched the footage, expressions of sadness and shock came across their faces. Nicholson used the example of the high school students to remind the students to choose their friends wisely.

“How many of you think you’re making a critical life choice when you choose to hang around a certain person, when you choose who your friends are?” she asked the room, to which many of the students raised their hands.

Nicholson ended the presentation she has been giving for 22 years with a story she has told for the past 10. She told the students the story of a 17-year-old Rochester Adams High School student, a boy she knew well, who lost his life after snorting cocaine in 2008 for what authorities believe was his first time.

Nicholson showed the students the boy’s story through a video.The video was narrated by the boy’s father, who still travels to high schools with Nicholson to remind students that one poor choice can change the course of their lives.

She leaves the students she visits with the hope that they’ll become productive members of society someday and that they’ll make wise decisions along the way.

“You have an opportunity at this juncture in your life, and that opportunity is to make the right decisions,” Nicholson said. “Take care of each other, do the right things. Everybody here in this room has something positive to offer to society. It may take you a while to figure out what it is, and you might not think it’s very significant. (But) it doesn’t matter how big or small it is, you all have something to offer. We want you to succeed.”

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