Jordyn Bakley’s legacy shines on with her father’s new program, the Brightstar Project

Tue, 01/14/2014 - 9:30pm

    WALDOBORO — Sitting at the front of the classroom at Medomak Valley High School last week, JC Bakley, husband and father of three children, began to speak to high school students about life choices and how one decision can ripple across multiple lives.

    None of the students knew why he was there, but they all sat quietly, eyes on Bakley as the lights went down. As he clicked through the PowerPoint presentation, he began to speak of a particular friend of his who inspired him. He said he hadn’t spoken to this friend in nearly four years.

    The students eventually learned who this friend was, although many in the Midcoast community had known her for a long time.

    On Jan. 30, 2010, his daughter, Jordyn Bakley, a student at the University of Maine in Orono, was walking home after meeting with friends at approximately 2 a.m. when a young man in a pickup truck crossed the diagonal in the street and hit Jordyn head on, killing her almost instantly. He was legally drunk and could have made the choice right then to help Jordyn or try to summon help or drive to the police station. Instead, this young man made a choice to flee, taking the next exit to the highway.

    Later that night, he got into a second accident, colliding with a piece of ledge in the median before disabling his truck. The police caught up with him and arrested him at approximately 5:30 a.m., just about the time a paper delivery man discovered Jordyn’s body up against a snow bank.

    If the students were quiet before, they now sat in a hush, listening to Bakley tell the aftermath of this story and how a series of irresponsible choices made by this young man has devastated not only Bakley’s family, but also everyone who was part of Jordyn’s life. It was apparent to everyone in the room it wasn’t easy for Bakley to recount the events of that night. This was clearly a man who loved and cherished the bright star that was his daughter and friend.

    “I was blessed with the 20 years I got to spend with Jordyn. She made it easy to be her dad,” he said.

    As photos of Jordyn lit up the screen, the students began to get a sense of who Jordyn was and what she stood for.

    “She was an education major and had just taken a second major in women’s studies,” said Bakley. She was a fledging photographer and had her work displayed at the University of Maine. She was an accomplished swimmer. She was very, very passionate about the environment, and about her fellow human beings. She participated in the Habitat for Humanity trip that went to Mississippi. She participated with a group that worked with inner-city children in Harlem during one summer. She participated in a water monitoring project that monitored the water in three counties when she was in high school, which led to a summer job while she was in college. She believed very strongly in the environment and was a ‘tree hugger’—and that was a good thing.”

    With that last sentence, he put up a photo of Jordyn with her arms around a tree, bringing smiles to some of the faces of the students.

    “Her goal was to work within the domestic violence abuse system as an educator,” he continued. “You can imagine the kids who get ripped out of their beds in the middle of the night because of domestic violence and have to be taken to a shelter would experience quite a disruption in their education and she felt very strongly about working with kids within that system.”

    As Bakley outlined all of the circumstances leading up to Jordyn’s death, including the subsequent trial and post-trial proceedings, a larger premise began to emerge. His presentation is an effort to get teens to reflect on the importance of their choices and how in an instant, one irresponsible choice can become a life-altering event that will forever live in the minds of countless others. 

    The driver’s choices led to the loss of his job, his fiancée and his freedom. He now serves out a 15-year sentence with eight suspended at Warren Correctional Institute. It cost him his family’s financial resources and put them in the light of public scrutiny. As Bakley led the students through the series of events, he counted nearly 10 pivotal moments where this young man could have done the right thing, taken responsibility for his actions and alleviated his own suffering. But, each time, he did not.

    “You all have goals, hopes and dreams,” Bakley said to the class. “What are they?”

    A few students raised their hands and said they wanted to go to college. Another wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do.

    “That’s okay, he said. “You don’t have to know right now what you want to do. But, some of you will go on to college, or get a job, or go into the service or travel—all great choices,” he said. “Now, try to picture what your life would be like the second you add alcohol and/or illegal subtances and choose to drive. All of it, everything you’ve ever worked toward can be gone — in an instant.”

    After Jordyn’s death, Bakley left his career of 29 years in business and decided to pursue a degree in education, just like his daughter. He currently works as an educational technician at Medomak Valley High School in special education. He hopes to receive his teaching certificate in a year in business and history. 

    He founded The Brightstar Project, a school-based program designed to change the culture of young people. Brightstar is just gaining traction now and will be branching out into other schools. He has done this presentation 18 times, using Jordyn’s story as the platform, calling the presentation “A Conversation of Choices.”

    “I felt very strongly that I wanted to do something to carry on Jordyn’s legacy,” he said. “It’s bittersweet to do this presentation. I said to the judge at sentencing no parent should have to hear and see what I’ve had to hear and see. If it will help any parent, any child, anyone from having to endure the abuse of losing a child and having to hear and see the things my family has had to hear and see, then I’m willing to do it. I think it’s what Jordyn would want.”

    Students have reacted positively to Bakley’s story. Sometimes they’ll come to him privately and ask him what they should do in the face of peer pressure to drink and drive. Of the responses he’s gotten from students afterwards, one girl wrote: “Choices are what make a person who they are. It was very beautiful and inspiring. It made me realize my reality and my choices. Thank you for that.”

    What propels Bakley is when someone hears the larger message of his family’s experiences.

    “People always ask me if I’m able to move on,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to move on, but I’m moving forward.”

    To contact Bakley about The Brightstar Project, you can reach him at or

    Kay Stephens can be reached at