MWAH! wows Rockridge students

Robert Blackford/Editor
MWAH! Performers sing "The Letter" to Rocket Chelsey Widdop. Widdop was recently named a 2008 Wendy's High School Heisman finalist in Illinois. Widdop was one of 20 chosen out of 34,000 applications from scholar-athletes around the state.

MWAH! (Messages Which Are Hopeful!) - The MWAH! performance started with a bang.

The introduction of Yusuf Taraki as a visitor from Afghanastan by Rockridge counselor Anne Bohnsack led to an outburst from Nathan, a member of the MWAH! troupe, who called Yusuf a "terrorist" who needs to "go back where he came from."

Troupe member Michael Todd then came on stage to state "Hatred and bigotry have no place here at Rockridge."

The skit ends in a reconciliation of the Yusuf and Nathan and an audio clip from Dr. Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech.

For the next hour the members of MWAH! mixed skits, song and dance with "Messages Which Are Hopeful."

After a gradual warming up period the Rockridge student body came around and joined the troupe in song, standing and clapping their hands to the beat of the music.

The troupe deals with bigotry and hatred, underage drinking, cyber bullying and excessive teen weight loss, as some of its subject matters.

The outburst was staged with Solaiman Rashid playing the part of Taraki. Rashid is a Muslim student who attends Plainfield High School in Illinois. The student performers of MWAH! range from age eight to 18.

The massacre of students at Virginia Tech was remembered as was their killer, a young man who suffered from bullying himself while a high school student.

"We all have hopes and we all have dreams," said one MWAH! troupe member.

The cyber bullying of a 13-year-old girl from O'Fallon who later hung herself was mentioned as was the woman who did the bullying. She now faces 20 years in prison.

Students are reminded that the Internet is not a black hole.

The deaths of four students from Oswego was brought up, along with photos from the fatal crash.

Illinois State Trooper Jason Wilson spoke to the audience reminding them that four years ago during MWAH!'s last performance a Rockridge parent spoke about her son who had recently died because of the choices he  made. Wilson said, "She can't come back here and sit in these stands where she used to sit with her son."

The reality of child abuse is brought home to the audience with the song "Alyssa Lies"" by Jason Michael Carroll, who wrote the song based on a true story.

Alex Oeschel, 13, is in her second year as a member of the MWAH! troupe. She is from Naperville. "My older sister was in the group and they asked me to join in. I like it because it teaches a great message. It's a fun way to teach kids."

Oeschel's younger sister Taylor, 8, is also in the troupe. She has been dancing for four years. "I like the dance mix where we all dance together," said Taylor about her favorite part of the show.

Wilson reminded the audience. "The consequence of your actions are your own."

Four students from Rockridge (Colton Parchert, Alex Pollito, Jim Hary and Jamie Mueller) were introduced as being heroes for a number of reasons, including being members of mission teams, for knitting hats for a neonatal unit and for a tremendous food drive collection.

Members of the Rockridge High School volleyball team were recognized and saluted and Chelsey Widdop came on stage while Michael Todd sang "Letter to Me" to her.

Ray Moffitt, a graduate of Reynolds High School, is the director of the MWAH! Performing Arts Troupe.

Rockridge Principal Clayton Naylor said, "We don't have a lot of assemblies. It's hard to reach teenagers but they (MWAH!) do."

Naylor said the program was part of its "Character Counts" program which started at Rockridge this year. "We are trying to make a difference with character. Our teachers are doing things in the classroom each week."

After the performance Naylor said he would be happy to have them return. "We have a lot of people come and watch."

"He's (Ray Moffitt) a hero to me for what he is trying to accomplish," said Naylor. "It's hard to be cool and care like these kids."

Naylor added, "I think the message gets through because they are hearing it from other kids. It's one of the reasons MWAH! has credibility with the students."