Meet your neighbor... Grady Olsen
DARIEN — When Holmes Elementary School third-grader Grady Olsen received a school assignment to write a persuasive letter to someone, he knew exactly what he was going to write about and who was going to receive the letter. He was going to write to the American Cancer Society about the dangers of smoking.
“I chose it because before, I was in a group [learning about] pollution and one of the pollution problems is smoke,” the 9-year-old said.
Other classmates wrote to veterinary hospitals and politicians about endangered animals, pollution and saving the trees. Olsen sent his letter about the dangers of tobacco smoke out to the American Cancer Society and Philip Morris, a cigarette and tobacco company, back in December.
Philip Morris didn’t respond, but the American Cancer Society wrote back and asked if he would send in a photo to be part of the group’s Tobacco 21 campaign which is working to increase the age for tobacco purchase to 21. Then on March 29, Olsen was invited to read his letter at the State House as part of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network's Day at the Capitol where they rally people to come together and persuade legislators to work against cancer.
Olsen was one of the youngest speakers, but his words could have some powerful action.
This year’s speakers spoke out for raising the tobacco age as tobacco use is responsible for a third of cancer deaths.
And as the son of a cancer survivor, preventing more people from falling sick was another priority for Olsen when writing his letter.
“My mom had breast cancer,” he said. “I don’t want anyone to go through what she went through, because she went through a lot.”
Though Olsen is used to playing soccer and lacrosse and performed in his school talent show, he wasn’t used to public speaking. His reading in the Old Judiciary Room had him diving in headfirst as he prepared to speak in front of over one hundred people.
“I was nervous,” he said. “But then I got down and everyone was clapping for me. My dad said you couldn’t tell I was nervous.”
“It was a proud moment to watch him speak,” Olsen’s mother, Courtney, added. “He did not look nervous at all. It’s a proud moment to think it started with a letter...and it’s a positive change. He was a part of it. We all were a part of it.”
Other speakers talked about their personal experiences with cancer, including one whose sister died of melanoma. After speaking, Olsen got to explore the state house.
Two dozen states have introduced legislation seeking to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco to 21. In Connecticut the bill to raise the age has cleared a joint public health committee in Hartford, but appears tied up over a fear of lost tax revenue.
Despite enjoying his day off and time in Hartford, Olsen said he’s not considering a career in politics and wants to pursue professional soccer instead. He would, however, recommend others write letters to their local groups about causes that matter to them. He said it’s important to start small and write to people who will hear you, like Duff.
“You can make your voice heard and let people hear you,” he said.