An Ode to the Young People

I created this blog eight years ago so I could have a voice on issues great and small.  Over the past eight years, I’ve made over 2,000 posts and received over 10,000 comments.  I’ve never been afraid to give an opinion.

But sometimes you face a situation and you don’t know what to say.  It’s not that you’re oblivious to the issue — but you don’t want to make it political, which inevitably happens when a politician attempts to “solve” it.  And that’s why I’ve been reluctant to talk about the following ….

Over the past three years, there have been six student suicides involving W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, including three in this school year.  Nobody knows why this has occurred.  Not the school administration, not the School Board, not the parents.

Around here, Woodson is “the public Ivy” of our local high schools.  (Don’t hate — my kids go to Fairfax HS and we’re Rebels all the way).  Families move into certain neighborhoods to be in “the Woodson pyramid.”  Grandparents pass along houses to their adult children, so that future generations can be Woodson Cavaliers.  These kids are destined to work hand and do well.  And, by and large, the children that have committed suicide have been student leaders and athletes.

So why do these children, on the verge of life-time success, lose hope?

I’ve tried to understand each case on an individual basis.  I’ve talked to parents, as well as Woodson’s School Board rep, Megan McLaughlin.  I’ve read the media reports and discussed remedies such as more counselors, less homework, less stress.  I’ve talked to my own children (I’ve got two teenage daughters).

And I still don’t have my arms around it.

Ironically, grappling with this spate of suicides coincides with my own transition from a young politico, not much older than my high school volunteers, to a middle-age father trying to handle the latest fads like micro-shorts.  Once a cool young guy, I’m now an embattled patriarch, grasping to steer my children to a philosophical safe harbor which roughly resembles my own conception of God, community and family.

In that respect, I can only offer the following advice to our young people that are confused or depressed:  Youth is fleeting.  It has wings. It leaves you behind.

When you look back years later, you will remember the highs and the lows, the triumphs and the failures of being a young person.  Those days will always be part of you.  (In my mind, I always be 17 and wearing a Fairfax High School letter jacket).

So enjoy being young and don’t fear an occasional failure.  Because whether you pass or fail that physics exam next week, you will survive and flourish in the long run.

Because life gets even better.  Becoming an adult gives you a chance to make yourself better, or just remake yourself completely.  You keep your best friends and make new ones.  You learn from your mistakes:  academically, socially, romantically.   Situations that seemed hopeless when you were a teenager are forgotten once you’re in the twenties.

Time may not heal all wounds, but it’s pretty close.

At some point, you even find that your life gives meaning to someone else — it may even create a new life.  And that’s the greatest feeling you can imagine.  You may not realize that when you’re 17 years old, but trust me it’s going to happen.

So I have no “solutions” for this public health issue of teenage suicides.  I can only say that life is a gift.  Youth is a moment.  And each day it gets better.

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