Just a few weeks after graduating from Milton Academy, Merritt Levitan ’13 was on a bicycle trip across the United States when a driver, who was distracted by texting, hit and killed her.
Merritt, a passionate and active young woman who loved the outdoors and spending time with family and friends, left a legacy of adventure, humor, and love that continues today at Milton and well beyond.
Several of Merritt’s Milton friends—Emeline Atwood ’14, Abigail Lebovitz ’14, Kaitlin Gately ’14, and Erika Lamere ’15—joined with her family to form TextLess Live More, a nonprofit whose mission is to end distracted driving and, over time, has evolved and expanded to promote digital wellness. The national awareness campaign, which has a chapter at Milton Academy, educates people about the effects of digital distraction, including the safety risks of distracted driving along with the overall impact of digital habits on physical and mental health.
“Merritt set an example for all of us to live life to the fullest and to be present for others and ourselves in everything we do,” said Head of School Todd Bland. “A decade after she was taken—far too soon—from her beloved family and friends, we can still find inspiration in her joy, excitement for life, and her deep care for others.”
Mr. Bland frequently reminds students and adults in the Milton community to make meaningful connections with one another, spend time off their smartphones and computers, and be generous with their attention. In a message to her family from her bike trip, Merritt had celebrated her time being “off the grid” and “living more.”
The benefits of putting down devices are vast, as two-thirds of Americans believe that unplugging or taking a “digital detox” is important for their mental health and nearly half of Americans do not have meaningful, in-person social interactions daily, according to TextLess Live More’s research. The average adult, the organization notes, spends 10 hours a day connected to some form of media.
Milton’s TextLess Live More chapter this month will add “no phone” tables for lunch in Forbes, where student and adult members of the community can commit to having a device-free meal with one another. The chapter will place bins for phones and discussion prompts on tables.
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration urges drivers to avoid distractions from smartphone use while driving, and reminds drivers that anything that takes a driver’s attention from the road—such as “adjusting the radio or GPS, applying makeup, eating and drinking” robs them of the critical seconds of reaction time they need to avoid crashes.
The TextLess Live More movement—and Merritt’s powerful memory—has been an advocate for distracted-driving laws across the United States and today encourages people to “get living” through mindful technology use. To learn more about TextLess Live More and Merritt’s legacy, visit their website.