Congratulations to this year’s Herren Project high school scholarship winners, Peyton Gardner from Rogers High School in Newport, RI and Ethan “Mac” McCarty from West Linn High School in West Linn, OR. Peyton and Ethan exemplified Herren Project’s mission by being leaders and inspiring others in their communities.  Thank you to all of our applicants and the work you are all doing in your schools and communities to make a difference.

Peyton Gardner


Peyton Gardner
Rogers High School
Newport, RI

I am a senior at Rogers High School in Newport, Rhode Island. I have been very involved in community activities as well as the school tennis team, student council, and prom planning committee. Listening to Chris Herren’s presentation while attending Thompson Middle School hit especially hard when hearing about his battle and overcoming substance use. Throughout High School I have made a strong promise to myself to not partake in drugs or alcohol, in an abundance of protecting my future. I will be attending Endicott College this fall to pursue a degree in Nursing. Because of my family history with substance abuse, I have pledged to be substance free and receiving the Herren Project Scholarship will help me continue to do so while in college.

Ethan McCarty


Ethan “Mac” McCarty
West Linn High School
West Linn, OR

Ethan McCarty’s Essay

Our city is commonly referred to as a “bubble”. No adverse problems live in the open; the city has the “safe” reputation — I live in that bubble, and it continues into my house.

Drug and alcohol use was discussed in the same way one talks about war on another continent – unfortunate because it felt so far away, not a real concern.

So why am I so passionate about learning and promoting substance use prevention and leading a substance use prevention club at school when I have been sheltered in the bubble?

Well, it’s the things I’ve learned and been introduced to, like when I first “met” Chris Herren watching The First Day. At this point, I was a young high schooler and had been exposed to some stories and experiences, but not much. Yet, this film made me feel like I was sitting across from Chris Herren. I recall a moment in the film when Chris spoke about how many people in the audience have younger siblings and how we are role models for substance use decisions for siblings — this hit me hard. Thinking about my siblings, something changed inside of me that day.

I have lived in the “bubble” forever, with no substance use, life-changing experiences. Yet, through Chris, it felt personal. I knew what he was saying and what I’ve learned in my prevention group was real. His story felt familiar, even though mine hasn’t involved substances. He inspired me to not only change myself, but prevention became a passion. In making sure my peers have the information, they need to make choices that work for them. I believe this was the moment my story began. I had always been a people person. People have come to me with problems or help, ranging from mental health to familial issues and more. I’ve always had some sort of welcoming aura. Whether this community is my circle of friends, acquaintances, or students from the middle schools, I found that sharing stories – my own and now Chris’s, come easy. They help to open the dialogue about being ourselves and getting the information needed to be safe. Being this beacon of acceptance and love (may sound cheesy) attracts the desire to want to be better—this desire to become a beacon for themselves. As the Herren Project’s mission says, supporting, inspiring, and empowering people to become their own beacon, in my opinion, is what it’s all about.

I joined the Teen Advisory Board as part of a school club my freshman year. A relatively innocent introduction into the club (I heard free food, so of course I went!) brought me into a world that has opened my eyes. A world where stigma hangs around substance use conversations – but conversations the world desperately needs so that the stigma gets shattered. A world of poor mental health, not knowing where to go or who to talk to – something that, in clubs like my peers, can get the support and care needed to be the best version of themselves. As I move on to college and life, I intend to pay forward what I’ve learned, share my own story as well as those of others, and continue to be a beacon. Success isn’t given, it’s earned. #preventionisthecure #beyou