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herrenFormer college and professional basketball star Chris Herren spoke to students from all classes in the Athletic and Convocation Center about his very public, 14-year struggle with drug and alcohol addiction. His talk was powerful, and scores of students followed him over to Straus Library for the question and answer session, squeezing into the aisles and balcony for a chance to continue the conversation. Mr. Herren urged students to think about the “whys” as well as the consequences of drug and alcohol use during their teenage years.  

“I ask you to give yourself a little check as you walk out of here, ‘What is it about me that I feel I have to change on Fridays and Saturday nights?’” Mr. Herren asked. “You are all under a lot of pressure, and often when we are pushed against a wall, we look for escapes to try to be something different. But you never have to change who you are for anyone.”

Bluntly and honestly, Mr. Herren told his story of how a basketball legend from Fall River, Massachusetts, ended up a street junkie, returning cans for money to buy heroin. During high school, Mr. Herren was recruited by the top Division 1 programs and chose Boston College, only to break his wrist during his first collegiate game. Sidelined by his injury, he failed several drug tests and left BC. Picked up by Fresno State and legendary coach Jerry Tarkanian, Mr. Herren went on to lead the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) and the nation in assists and steals; he was named to the all-WAC first team, twice. Herren was drafted in the second round of the 1999 NBA draft by the Denver Nuggets. He played one year with the Nuggets before realizing his childhood dream, when he was traded to the Boston Celtics in 2000. As a Celtic, he had a career-high 18 points against Dallas, only to suffer a season-ending injury. After being released from the Celtics, he played basketball overseas in five countries: Italy, Poland, Turkey, China and Iran. Except for brief periods of sobriety during this basketball career, Mr. Herren was an addict, and the married father of three put everything at risk to continue his habit.

Now in his sixth year of sobriety, Mr. Herren speaks to students and athletes “in the hopes of reaching just one person and making a difference in their life.” He also runs The Herren Project, a nonprofit that assists individuals and families struggling with addiction. One initiative, Project Purple, was launched by his nonprofit to break the stigma of addiction, bring awareness about the dangers of substance abuse, and help create a sober culture within school systems.

“I truly believe in my heart that there needs to be a sober culture in high school. Studies show that 90 percent of addictions begin during the teenage years. Most people have a stereotyped image of what an addict looks like—homeless and strung out. No one has the image of what an addict can look like—young, athletic and full of promise.”

Mr. Herren visited campus as this year’s Talbot Speaker. Established in 1993, the Samuel S. Talbot II ’65 Memorial Fund for Counseling and Community Issues supports Milton’s efforts to teach about affective behavioral issues.