United Way
of Massachusetts Bay
and Merrimack Valley

January 8, 2014

Counter Culture

Going against popular opinion is tough, especially in high school. You know who else is tough? These two.

What does it mean to be truly counter-cultural? Is it pushing back against the societal conventions? Or can it be tougher, more ostracizing: pushing back against the conventions of your peers? For former Epping High School students Colleen McCormack and Morgan King it’s both.

It will strike you immediately when you first meet the two girls that they are not wanting for confidence. Amiable, self-aware and quick to laugh, they are obviously at ease in pretty much any social situation. Which is an important trait to have when the beliefs you hold leave you grossly outnumbered.

Colleen and Morgan were the de facto spokespersons about substance abuse prevention in their school community, specifically, the usage of marijuana. It is not an opinion shared by the masses. The vocal ones, at least. And the two girls are fine with that. Actually, they feel pity more than fear or anger; the sight of friends that have wasted opportunities because of drug and alcohol use has been, as they say, “heartbreaking.”

“Sure, we feel like they’re judging us,” says Colleen. “But we’re okay with that. We just don’t have any desire to do it.”

Active in school-wide prevention activities like the annual Red Ribbon Week, Colleen and Morgan brought their advocacy for a drug-free lifestyle to the next level with their short film A Fork in the Road.

Thanks to last year’s Youth Venture initiative, coordinated by United Way of the Greater Seacoast and Allies in Substance Abuse Prevention, funding was made available to groups of middle and high school students to script, shoot and edit their own substance abuse prevention films, which were premiered in June at the Brickyard Film Festival at O’neill Cinemas in Epping.

For their project, Colleen (who starred) and Morgan (who directed) attempted to build interest among their peers to participate…but that didn’t go too well. In fact, the opposite happened. As they went on their casting calls they were met with derision and ribbing. If it were not for their friends and a handful of like-minded classmates, the film may not have materialized.

But they pushed and realized their vision. A Fork in the Road tells the story of two friends, both facing pressure to lose themselves in the world of casual inebriation. The eponymous “fork” is the choice: resist or succumb? No spoilers, but the consequences are painted vividly.

“This is makes us feel like we’re making a difference,” Colleen says. “When you think about it, we’re actually the rebellious ones.”

The advocacy and filmmaking are important aspects to their anti-drug endeavor, but the two girls agree that the most important thing that they did was to be role models, to show their fellow students, especially the younger ones, that side-stepping these risky, potentially devastating, behaviors is something that should be lauded.

“We tell them to keep the faith,” says Morgan. “That they’re not alone. That not everyone is doing it.”

It’s a recognizable message, echoed ad infinitum in all manner of afterschool special, but in the real world, on the ground, when the consequences matter most, it can be the difference between a life lived full and one cut short.