My youngest recently brought home a copy of the last high school newspaper of the school year. It contained two different pieces by two different student authors that addressed a number of significant local victims' issues, but each author discussed these issues in completely different ways and from a completely different viewpoint. I found the contrast both interesting and educational.
A little background is necessary first. Recently my youngest child came home very upset from an assembly that had been held at school. Apparently this assembly was some sort of anti-drugs and anti-alcohol program that's held every year, but the two-day affair that was put on last year was deemed excessive, and the event was scaled back considerably this time around. My youngest said a local woman had been asked to speak to the students as part of this assembly on very short notice (she was asked earlier that same morning) and had graciously agreed to do so. This woman and her husband lost their daughter tragically in an auto accident in Austin 12 years ago when the daughter's car was hit by a drunk driver. They have been strong and vocal supporters of MADD and other related organizations and causes throughout Central Texas ever since.
My youngest said the woman got up at the assembly and started talking very frankly about her daughter's life and death. Some of the woman's talk was graphic but no worse than what's in many movies, on t.v., in driver's ed. classes, or even in other student programs in our school (like "Shattered Dreams"). Because the subject of her daughter's death was very personal to her, the speaker became emotional at times. At some point, my youngest became aware that certain students and faculty members were mocking and making fun of the speaker.
About halfway through her presentation, faculty members suddenly stepped up to the speaker and told her she needed to leave. The woman protested that she hadn't finished or made her final points yet and became visibly distraught. My youngest felt extremely uncomfortable and embarrassed when faculty members insisted on escorting the still-protesting speaker off the stage.
The writer of the first student piece in question, a letter to the editor, apparently felt the same way my youngest did about the whole affair. She wrote that the school's treatment of the speaker had been disrespectful and appalling and that she'd been especially upset to learn the speaker had broken down in tears immediately after leaving because she believed her attempt to talk to the students had been to no avail. The writer ended her piece by assuring the speaker that she, for one, had been touched by her words and was grateful to her for taking the time to come. My youngest was glad to see they hadn't been the only person at the assembly who'd come away disturbed by the speaker's treatment. (Since then, another student has written a letter expressing similar sentiments that was published in the local community newspaper.)
The second piece for discussion from the same school paper is an end-of-year student opinion column entitled "A Hero To Save Us". In part, the author writes, "This year, our town has needed a superhero more than ever before. The losses we have experienced this year have surpassed any we could have ever pictured. We lost loved ones, we lost trust, we lost faith in whatever we had worked so hard to finally believe in. We lost." She goes on to say, "Where is the superhero we so desperately need to save us from that doom we're facing?"
Both of these student writings are about issues related to lives needlessly lost or ruined due to substance abuse, crime, and other related social ills within our community. Although done more indirectly than I would have liked, the first piece asks for personal soul-searching, more open dialog, and acceptance of personal responsibility for important issues of character here. The second piece directly expresses a wish that all the troubling societal ills destroying the community could simply be magically covered up and whisked away so that business-as-usual could return.
Ultimately, the first piece is about empathy for victims. I could not find much empathy at all in the second piece. If my youngest's description of what took place at the school assembly is any indication, I fear the second writer's approach is far more common in our community than that of the first writer. The pervasive lack of empathy here is being passed on from parents, teachers, and other community leaders to our young people with painful results for all, whether they realize it or not. I'm glad to see a few hopeful glimmers of something better someday.