The traditional late-winter school vacation week is a chance to relax and spend time with family and, for many students, an opportunity to answer a call to action.
Stereotypes of students sleeping in or walking around in a social media-induced trance are sadly overshadowed by the twin scourges of opioid overdoses and school mass shootings. More than a few students are answering calls to action and challenges to get involved in ending these horrible onslaughts that claim lives young and old. Some students are joining protests, including demonstrations where protesters lie on the ground to illustrate the number of lives claimed by mass shooters.
Others are getting educated about gun violence, mental illness, and the dynamics involved in addiction. Many students can view images from the Florida shootings and easily substitute their classmates or themselves in the place of victims and survivors. The Valentine’s Day massacre scene looked like most American schools, and the victims and survivors look like most Americans.
Young people in America have never been insulated from social upheavals and challenges facing the nation. Two world wars and the Civil War took loved ones and relatives away from 19th and 20th century youth. Teenagers who learned about wars in history class found themselves donning uniforms and heading off to war before they earned a high school diploma.
The Great Depression uprooted families. Segregation deprived others of housing and job opportunities and most American youth balanced work and school until suburbia finally eclipsed rural America as the place where most American families lived and worked.
American students aren’t tilling fields or waiting for their number to be called in a draft. But social media and the passion to change the world experienced by every generation of young people is energizing today’s youth.
Young Americans and plenty of adults in this country have stopped viewing addiction deaths and mass shootings as horrible things that happen to other families or in other communities. The toll of loss measured has mounted to the point where it’s hard to find someone who hasn’t been touched in one way or another by the opioid crisis and who hasn’t fumed in frustration over how to end mass shootings.
This week might be the time for students to relax and spend more time. But all Americans should be grateful to know plenty of young people will spend vacation time redoubling efforts to solve problems much bigger than themselves. They will do it because they know their greatest strength is the absence of cynicism or hopelessness that threatens to cling like rust to people as they grow older.