Nearly 70 sixth-graders at Osage Middle School students graduated from the D.A.R.E. program on April 15. 

The D.A.R.E. program was designed to help educate students on the importance of making positive choices regarding substance abuse.

In recent years, the program has also grown to cover the issue of bullying. 

The D.A.R.E. program is taught by Officer Rick LaGue, a veteran of the Osage Police Department. He visits the sixth-grade classrooms once a week. 

The featured speaker for this year's graduation ceremony was Jerry Myers, a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. 

Myers, 43, has been in recovery for 23 years. He began drinking at age 8. 

He said he had "a very dark space in me" that he first tried to fill with alcohol. When that didn't work, he turned to marijuana and then harder drugs. 

He entered a treatment facility shortly after his 16th birthday. 

Myers said he is ashamed of things he did when he was drinking and doing drugs, including stealing.

He also regrets what he put his mother through, noting she was always worried the police would come to her house and tell her he was dead. 

"Alcohol and drugs will turn you into someone you don't want to be, and I hope that never happens to any of you," he said. 

Myers now has a family of his own and works as a service manager at a Harley-Davidson dealership. He's also an ordained minister. 

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But the road to recovery wasn't easy, according to Myers. He recalled being strapped down to a hospital bed when he was in withdrawal because he couldn't control his body's actions.  

He said it's much easier to never start using than to stop. 

The three D.A.R.E. essay contest winners read their essays to the audience. 

"I plan to use what I learned to make safe and responsible choices," said Ava Hennessey, the fifth-period winner. "Now I know what to do in a stressful situation.

"I will never, ever take drugs and will try to use the D.A.R.E. decision-making model when I don't know what to do," she said. 

Emersyn Blanco, the seventh-period winner, said when she first met LaGue, "I didn't want to say much or even look him in the eyes." 

However, LaGue was nice and made her feel comfortable, she said. 

Blanco said the D.A.R.E. program teaches kids to make safe and responsible choices, "not only for ourselves, but for other people."

Ashley Muhs, the eighth-period winner, said she learned how to stand up to peer pressure and deal with things that make her nervous or uncomfortable. 

D.A.R.E students also learn how to safely use prescription and over-the-counter medication. 

"You can risk your life if you don't read the label," she said. 

This year's D.A.R.E graduates were Sarah Allan, Andrew Aponte, Annaliese Arciniega, Hampton Arciniega, Dawson Arickx, Preston Beyer, Franklin Bielecki, William Bielefeld, Aleana Blake, Emersyn Blanco, Cassidy Boge, Mackenzie Brown, Leila Buffington, Jarin Camlin, Makynna Carlson, Aubrey Chapman, Caden Chisholm, Joseph Chisholm, Maddox Cockrum, Emma Evens, Jessie Freeman, Logan Gerdts, Nathan Goddard, Jack Hanke, Lilly Hegland, Ava Hennessey,Trinity Hinders, Layla Hoffman, Reagan Hollatz, Dalton Janssen-Breon, Jackson Joens, Cyrus Keck, Sophia Ketelsen, Cale King, Bailey Klotzbier, Jacob Krebsbach, William Lindeland, Henry Mauser, Chad McIntyre, Cooper Meek, Paige Mehmen, Mattea Meirick, Calvin Mellmann, Mikeal Meyer, Colin Miller, Jerek Mostek, Ashley Muhs, Carter Muller, Emily Myers, Ledger Nehls, Brady Nicholson, Kaegen O'Malley, Kayelea Parks, Erika Peck, Ava Pearl Reams, Grace Schallock, Jenna Scharper, Faith Schoonover, Payton Scott, Mackenzie Sorenson, Madison Swenson, Beau Taylor, William VanQuathem, Heath Voigt, Michael Wagner, Addison Williamson, Elyza Williamson, Beau Wrage, and Tanner Wright. 

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