McKay Hatch, 15, of South Pasadena, Calif. (pop. 24,292), is on a mission to eliminate profanity and vulgarity in everyday conversation.
"Words mean something. Words affect things," says Hatch, a sophomore at South Pasadena High School. "They're not just words."
Hatch has been on a crusade to lift our language since he insisted that his peers stop cussing in his presence five years ago. "After a while, I just couldn't handle it anymore," he says. "I challenged my friends: If you want to hang around me, I don't want to hear cussing."
"They stopped, which I thought was really cool."
That positive experience gave Hatch an idea. If his friends were up to the challenge–why not the rest of his classmates?
In 2007, Hatch organized the "No Cussing Club" to encourage students at his school to stop using foul language. By the start of the next school year, more than 120 students had joined.
"Those words aren't good to hear or be around," says South Pasadena High School senior Dominique Butler, 17, a member of the club. "A lot of people who do cuss are trying to stop–especially when McKay comes around. They'll say, 'Oh, there's the no-cussing kid!'"
Cary Inouye, a father of five in Canyon Country, Calif., hopes reactions like that will spread. "It's refreshing to have someone, especially as a youth, say, 'Can we have a little more common decency?'" says Inouye, who joined the club along with his wife and kids.
Hatch's school club meetings are simple: Members drop money into a jar for each time they slipped and accidentally cussed. They discuss non-profane substitutions to use–such as "Oh, pickles!" or "Sassafrass!"–if going cold turkey seems like an insurmountable task. And they discuss which charity should be the recipient of their donations once the money jar is filled. Today, the No Cussing Club has more than 30 chapters around the world, and an estimated 100,000 people have taken the No Cussing Challenge on Hatch's website www.nocussing.com.
Hatch has been recognized for his courage and determination. He's been interviewed by Dr. Phil and featured on Good Morning America, and last year, Hatch even confronted a teacher.
"I told him, 'Stop cussing in class. It's kind of offending me.'"
"He said, 'They're just words,'" Hatch recalls. "It just surprised me. I never thought a teacher would be cussing in school."
For Michael Cacciotti, the mayor who signed the proclamation for South Pasadena's No Cussing Week, Hatch provides a good reminder of what he tries to live up to himself, and what he teaches the athletes he coaches in youth soccer: "What you say and how you say it can really affect other people," he says.
For Hatch, the no cussing challenge is one he strives to live up toand present to others–365 days a year. And he's eager to tackle the other challenges he sees ahead.
"I'm going to start off with the little things, like cussing," he says. "Once we get rid of cussing, then we can go off to the next thing–violence. Most fights start with words–cussing at each other and making each other angry."