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home : insight & opinion : guest columns
June 18, 2018

5/22/2018 1:38:00 PM
Graduation means freedom - to live
For the Daily News

Seniors! Class of 2018! Listen to me. You may not know me, but I am about to tell you what could be the most important thing you ever hear in your life.

There are lots of images I could show you with this message that are horrifying and spectacular, but that's not necessary. I don't think you're stupid, or unable to control yourselves. But I do think that, with graduation, you are going through something you've never experienced before and it's occupying nearly every corner of your mind so fully that you may - make that will - miss things you ordinarily wouldn't. Like stop signs, sleep, not taking your eyes off the road, ignoring the noise from your phone that you just got a text telling you were the party is/was/will be and taking care of yourself and others in the process.

I was in Indianapolis celebrating Mothers Day for my wife's mother, my wife and our daughters. It was the kind of lovely day that reminds us of the importance of family, the bond parents feel for their children, and how not everything in life is about money or TV. On the news that night was the sad story that an 18-year-old high-school student about to graduate had been killed in a car wreck. Her photo was shown, as so many have been all too often to illustrate stories of the same sort.

My mind raced back to Robinson High School and how, in my sophomore year, a popular senior had been killed in a car wreck on the road to New Hebron very near where I live now. I had known him; went and looked at the car and the tree it hit afterward, saw the skid marks on the curve leading to it and imagined what it must have been like, and shook my head at how something like that could have happened at such a time when he had his whole life in front of him.   

Part of what helped me get past it was believing that things like that had to be rare - a moment so hopeful and happy being ruined by something so tragic. That I was wrong about that was taught to me soon after. There was another kid killed my junior year, and three more the year I graduated. Almost all were at or near graduation weekend in that springtime haze when the work is done and the reward is so close you can almost touch it.

As I became a teacher and got to know more and more young people, it seemed all too common that at graduation time death did way too good a job of taking away the unwary. The worst of these for me had to be when I was the senior class sponsor and the hard-working, bright, college-bound young lady from a broken home who had overcome many obstacles to rise above them all died on her way back to town from a pond party as a passenger on a beer run. The parents at the farm where the party was being held had supplied the alcohol and told the kids to stay there, thinking they were protecting them. They said later they were sorry. It didn't help. Adults who should know better cannot be relied upon to keep you safe.

Don't listen to them now, listen to me.

Don't do it. Don't be stupid. Don't disappoint all the people who love you and wish you well by losing your life or causing someone else to lose theirs now that you've got the chance to have it your way. Don't drink and drive. Don't cruise the county with alcohol in your car and imagine yourself to be invincible. Don't be one of the statistics that writers like me use to warn others how extra-vigilant you should have been to have survived to see their own tomorrow.

Happy graduation to the Class of 2018.

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