To say senior Jacob Orlowski was surprised when he entered the Park Hill South High School auditorium last Friday morning would be an understatement.
By ROBERT A. CRONKLETON
The Kansas City Star
As classmates cheered, Jacob was greeted by officials from Toyota and Discover Education who were holding a giant $20,000 check.
They were there to let him know that he had won the Toyota Teen Driver Video Challenge.
“Obviously this isn’t the real check, but we will give you the giant check,” said Kelly Fisher, assistant manager of philanthropy for Toyota.
“The giant check is good,” a shocked Jacob replied. He admitted he had all but given up on winning the contest. He even told his mother that he had his doubts.
“I didn’t expect this at all,” Jacob said after the presentation. “I was very surprised. It was great — a great experience. They set it up perfect.”
Jacob’s video was one of about 125 that were entered into the contest. In March, his emerged among 10 finalists that were posted on the Toyota Teen Driver website so the public could vote on the grand prize winner.
“Then the voting started and that was very, very long,” Jacob said. “It was two weeks, but it felt like two months. I was stressed, but got through it. Then it was just this dead waiting period. I thought surely they had notified their winner by now — it’s probably not me. Then here I come into the auditorium to a great surprise.”
His video starts off with two teenagers who are in a relationship and are texting each. The girl is driving and texting and ends up hitting and killing her boyfriend.
“It really pulls you in emotionally,” Jacob said. “You got out of that and you go into these statistics — all these awful statistics. You are hearing these statics and you just feel for them because you had this emotional piece at the beginning.”
In the end, it comes together with at the graveyard with students holding hands, saying they won’t text and drive and pledging to be safer behind the wheel, he said.
“I hope we have safer teen drivers as a result” of my video, Jacob said. “It is something you hear over and over again and you know that’s what you are supposed to do. But when you see something like this — especially someone local winning a competition like this — it makes you think twice, especially when watching the video.”
Toyota co-sponsored the video challenge because road safety depends on more than how a car is built.
“It has to extend to the drivers and passengers in those vehicles,” Fisher said.
The company has safety programs for people of all ages, but the longest standing one has been focused on teen safety.
“Unfortunately, the statistics show that the number one cause of teen-aged death is automobile crashes,” she said. “We believe that is tragic, but avoidable.”
Jacob’s video stood out, Fisher said, because it showed intelligence, collaboration and genuine concern for his fellow teens.
Park Hill South principal Dale Longenecker said he wasn’t surprised by Jacob’s success because the student is creative and turned out a very good video.
“It is a great video and it was very well done,” Longenecker said. “What I liked about his video best is that he has solutions at the end. It’s not just ‘Texting is bad when you drive so don’t text.’ But at the end he has solutions about how you can not text.”
During the presentation, Jacob thanked those who worked on the video with him, as well as his mother. The production was stressful, he said, but she came up with some good ideas that helped the video come together.
“It was a really tough experience and I learned a lot,” Jacob said. “The voting period, a lot of you know, was ridiculous but we made it work and we made it through it.”
Students who helped with the video thought it was great that Jacob had won.
“He really deserved winning it because put a lot of effort into it and worked really hard,” said Tyler Obico, a senior who played the role of the boyfriend who was killed. “It promotes safe driving, which is really important for kids our age. I think it really motivated us to drive safely.”
Jenny Orlowski, a language arts teacher at Park Hill South, is proud of her son and said he learned perseverance, especially in the final days leading up to the announcement.
“The two-week voting window was probably the roughest part of the whole journey,” she said. “The fact you don’t know where you stand and they don’t post numbers, I compared it to . . . a basketball game where you know you need to win, but you don’t know what the score is.”
To reach Robert A. Cronkleton, call 816-234-4261 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @cronkb.