Joe Levitan was invited to speak at the Milton Academy TextLess Live More Assembly on Monday, February 12, 2018. Joe lost his eldest sister Merritt Levitan, Milton Academy Class of 2013, to a driver who was texting-behind-the-wheel in July 2013. Merritt was on a cross country bike trip when the young distracted driver struck her and her fellow bikers on a country road in Arkansas. Merritt sustained traumatic brain injury and died the next day in a Memphis hospital.

The accident was unintentional. Merritt died because of 4 seconds of texting. She was 18. He was 21.

In Fall 2013, students at Milton Academy founded TextLess Live More to honor their classmate and recognize the perils and real danger facing “The Digital Generation” – distraction. Milton holds a monthly TextLess Live More Day, where students are encouraged to turn their phones off for an entire school day and live “in real time”. By turning off their phones, students hope to “relearn” how to be present with one another as well as practice and apply zero-phone-usage while driving.

Joe Levitan’s Speech at Milton Academy

The last time I was in this gym was for my sister’s graduation. Merritt did it. She made it through thirteen years at Milton Academy. She was a lifer. That is no easy task as I’m sure many of you know. Merritt decided to ride her bike across the country before she headed off to college. Do something off-the-grid. Exciting. Adventurous.

The day before she left, my sister wrote this on Facebook: Leaving tomorrow to bike across the US with Overland Summers! No phone or Internet or any other form of communication for 6 weeks. Super excited!

Two weeks later my family and I gathered in Memphis at her hospital bed to say goodbye – the real goodbye.

On July 2, 2013, my sister Merritt Levitan was hit by a distracted driver who was texting behind-the-wheel. She died on July 3rd, the next day.

It is still hard to believe how such small thing can cause so much pain. Most of you didn’t know Merritt. But you do know her legacy. You keep her legacy alive everyday by looking at those blue stickers, by thinking twice when you hear that incessant buzz in your center console, by choosing to look up.

I’m not here to make everyone sad. I don’t want you to take the Textless pledge because of my sister. I want you to take the pledge because it is right.

Because you value your friends, your family, your life and the lives of those around you. I want everyone to look to their left and right. Look at your friends. Really appreciate the people that you live this life with. If distracted driving doesn’t stop some of those friends will leave your side. Some will be taken just like my sister was.

I used to be like you. I was normal. The thought of me losing someone due to distracted driving was just absurd. Until it wasn’t. Until I did. Until my life got torn in half because of a text message.

Don’t participate in Textless for Merritt, do it for you. Do it because you value life. Do it because you don’t want to be like me. You don’t want to hold your sister’s hand as she takes her last breath.

Merritt’s friends from Milton started Textless. They started it to honor her memory and to make sure that no other 18-year-old has to lose a friend to the weapon in their pocket.

I can’t thank everyone here at Milton Academy enough for what you’ve done. There really are no words that can express how much this community means to me. Everyone on the Textless board, thank you. Mr. Ball, thank you for working so hard to keep Textless running. Mr Bland, thank you for allowing Milton to carry on Textless. Thank you Milton for letting me speak today. Together let’s end distracted driving. Text less Live More.

Joe Levitan (12), Merritt Levitan (17), Hunter Levitan (15) – Summer 2012

Left: Joe Levitan, now 18, is a senior at Frederica Academy on St. Simons Island, Georgia. He attended Milton Academy through K-8 grade along with his older sisters Merritt (MA 2013) and Hunter Levitan. Joe will graduate from Frederica Academy in May 2018 and attend Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont.

Far right: Hunter Levitan (20) is currently a sophomore at New York University, studying journalism and photography. 

Both Hunter and Joe are dedicated to raising awareness about the perils of distracted driving to prevent tragedies such as the loss of their sister Merritt.