CLIFTON PARK -- Towering over Route 9 is a billboard featuring the smiling face of Kevin Sheridan on one side and his 3-month-old grandson, Max, on the other side.
In between the two happy pictures though, is a phrase that conveys the opposite feeling.
“Thanks to an impaired driver, they never met,” reads the billboard, which also says that Sheridan died in 2013.
The billboard was designed by Shenendehowa High School senior and niece of Sheridan, Rachael Piskun.
Piskun was one of 64 Shen students who entered a graphic design competition to create a public service announcement billboard that would be displayed on Route 9, right outside of Earl B. Feiden Appliance on Route 9.
The billboard will be up for at least three weeks.
The Shen school district teamed up with Lamar Advertising, the company that owns the billboard structure, and the Kathleen A. Campion Foundation, to judge which of the 64 billboard designs would be displayed.
“You guys all did an amazing job,” Sallie Way, the graphic design teacher at Shen who organizes the competition each year, said on Thursday morning to the gathered students.
“I’m really happy," Piskun said. "Impaired driving is a big problem. I lost my uncle because of it, so I’ve been wanting to shine a light on it and I’m really happy I got the chance to,” Piskun said.
“One of the greatest lessons I think we can teach our kids is civic responsibility, and recognizing that they’re part of a greater whole, and their efforts, their work, has a positive or negative impact on society," District Superintendent L. Oliver Robinson said on Thursday. "I think this is one of those tremendous lessons through art, a medium that the kids enjoy, that they can use to send such a powerful message.And the kids realize that. They realize that it’s not just another art project. It’s not just about having their art on a billboard. They truly realize that they are trying to make a difference.”
Student deaths caused by drunken driving is a topic with which Clifton Park and Shen are very familiar.
In December 2012, two teenage students from the area were killed and two others were seriously injured in a car crash on the Northway.
Shen seniors Deanna Rivers and Chris Stewart were killed. Shen junior Matt Hardy and Shaker High School senior Bailey Wind survived the crash.
Halfmoon resident Dennis Drue was eventually sentenced to five to 15 years in prison for being drunk and high when he hit the students’ car with his own. Drue was also texting at the time of the crash.
Piskun said she was shocked when she learned that her design was selected.
“I had a hard time presenting the idea in class, but I’m just happy that I get to highlight the importance of driving safe,” she said.
Robinson said hopefully because each student who designed a billboard has a circle of friends, the message of the dangers of impaired driving will spread quickly.
He added that, 17 years after the district held the competition for the first time, he sees it as a perfect example of Shen’s dedication to making sure that student’s realize the power of their own choices.
“It’s something we see as part of the legacy of who we are as a school system, who we are as a part of a larger community. We really want to [impress] on young people that they have a responsibility to use their voice to make a difference, and this is the voice being used,” he said.