Albertson, who had just finished lecturing the health class about the dangers and consequences associated with alcohol and drug abuse, called back one girl who had told the class that she had once taken car keys away from a drunken parent. Repeating her promise that she would be always there to help, Albertson hugged the girl before the student turned and left the classroom with tears in her eyes.
More than 25 high school students had listened attentively as Albertson spoke about her daughter, Heather, a 25-year-old Gloucester native killed by a hit-and-run drunken driver in Beverly last year. She spoke about her daughter's death, her family's loss and her commitment to educate young people on the importance of making good decisions.
Standing at a podium with type-written sheets of paper in her hands, Albertson spoke fondly of her daughter.
"Heather was a beautiful daughter," she said. "She always wanted to do things for herself. Nothing was impossible to accomplish. Heather was constantly learning and growing."
To Albertson's left were pictures of Heather and her family which had been arranged on a nearby desk. A large picture of Heather was also propped up against the chalkboard.
Fighting back tears, Albertson took several deep breaths as she spoke.
Students listened as Albertson recounted the events that took place the night of Heather's death. Albertson told students she believed it was important for them to hear about what happened that night, including details from the accident report and Heather's autopsy.
"Heather was a wonderful, loving woman who gave so much to others," she continued. "There is more to life than kicking back and having a few drinks or joints. Life is about loving and living. Heather knew what life was about and lived it to the fullest."
Albertson was invited to speak to the class by members of Students Against Destructive Decisions, a program of the Beverly-based Health and Education Services Inc. in collaboration with the Gloucester Health Department. The program, which is run by licensed social worker Amy Kann, was started at Gloucester High last year.
A group of 25 SADD students visits O'Maley Middle School once a month to share personal stories about how they have been directly or indirectly affected by such issues as drugs, alcohol, smoking, harassment, peer pressure, pregnancy, sex, rape, suicide, stress, dating, abuse and bullying.
"I think many people have changed their lives because of this group," Kann said.
Albertson and members of other families who have lost loved ones to drunken drivers lobbied to get Melanie's Law passed. The state's new drunken driving law, which includes provisions that specifically target repeat offenders, is just a starting point, according to Albertson.
Albertson's mission is to have legislation passed that would mandate jail time for a first drunken-driving offense. Laws currently in place are not strict enough, she said. The laws need to be changed in order to scare and deter people from doing it again, she said.
"The crime and punishment don't seem to add up," said Albertson referring to the six- to eight-year prison sentence given to James Cloutman, the 41-year-old Beverly man convicted of killing her daughter.
Albertson admitted she is ashamed of the bad choices made by adults everyday. She said she can't understand why people who have had a few drinks choose to get behind the wheel of a car rather than pick up a phone and call for a ride.
"I don't understand why we think alcohol is such an important part of our lives," she told the students yesterday. "So many lives have been ruined by bad choices. I am ashamed to say that many adults have let you down by being poor examples.
"We need clean air. We need love and to be loved," she added. "We need strong-willed people to be role models and leaders. You can be those examples. You can change the world to make it a better and safer world for everyone."
Albertson wants to reach as many people as she can in the hopes of inspiring others to make the right decisions. Her wish is to prevent future tragedies from happening.
"Don't hesitate to call me; I will do anything to help," she reiterated. "You are our future. You can make a difference. We need to work together to make the world a safe and happy place."
Alexa Castiello, president of SADD's Gloucester chapter, addressed students at the end of Albertson's talk. She appealed to students to set a good example and to be good role models for younger students.
"We can make a difference," the 18-year-old Castiello said. "A simple phone call can save more than one life. We can't change the past, but we can change what happens to our families and our friends," she continued. "We are the next generation. We need to take responsibility. Out of respect for the people we've lost, we need to make changes."