Editor’s Note: The following are several commentaries written for the Weston High School Journal by the student editors immediately after the school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on Dec. 14, 2012.
by Emily Weyrauch, Editor-in-Chief
As high school students learning about history, we are often forced to detach ourselves from the atrocities of the past. We cannot grieve each individual life lost because of hate crimes, or each soldier killed in history’s numerous wars. We must push past and learn the facts, learn the historical context so that we can move forward. We see how the world has learned from its mistakes, or not. We see the historical repercussions, we see the ripples, we see cause and effect. We see the world from an objective point of view. We pass the history exam.
A lot of us haven’t lived. I know I haven’t. I haven’t been confronted with immediate death and I haven’t witnessed something traumatic. In school, I learn about important people that have, I read books about characters that have. But I live in my little Weston bubble. On Friday, that bubble was popped.
A town much like ours only a few miles away experienced a horrific tragedy that will one day become part of history. Perhaps in the future it will be remembered as the catalyst for revolutionary new gun control laws and mental health initiatives.
But we must not now view this real life event objectively as history. We cannot disrespect the victims and their families in that way.
As a journalist, as a human, I know it is easy to become numb to the news. It is impossible to grieve each time life is unfair, and there is a responsibility to carry on unfazed, fulfilling responsibilities, floating above the surface, gliding over the hate-filled atrocities that riddle this heartless earth. You can try, but after a while there are no more tears.
This is different. Our neighbors, our community members, have had their lives forever changed and devastated. They sent their children to school only to return with a gaping hole in their families.
Be present. Sympathize. Feel. Cry. Do something. Do what you think can help. Take a political stand or take action to help Newtown victims. Whatever it is, do it.
We are no longer spectators of history. We can no longer give excuses for apathy or detachment. It is no longer even a question. Something happened right here and we need to react now.
• • •
by Sarah Gruen, Editor-in-Chief
Exactly 24 hours before the tragedy in Newtown, I enjoyed a pity party for one when I got deferred from college. I bitched and moaned and wallowed and thought about how terrible my life was. I complained that the world wasn’t fair because I didn’t get into the university of my choice — that my life was over because I didn’t get what I wanted. People told me that they were sorry for my loss. And I was bitter — as many told me I was allowed to be — that I worked hard and did nothing wrong and the world didn’t treat me fairly.
And it feels so damn trivial. I don’t quite know how to express my emotions in a half page editorial, or even vocalize them for that matter. I feel so incredibly guilty for having thought of my life and my problems as so very important. High school really messes with one’s mind and tricks one into thinking that they are the center of the universe.
The focus is to get good grades and to be the president of clubs and to ace the SATs and to take 10 AP classes. We panic when we get a C on a math test. We cry when we get a low score on the writing section of the ACT. We obsessively check Powerschool after each test. And at the climax of our high school experience, we wait so eagerly for a college decision, and waste time — precious time — thinking about what we could have done differently to avoid deferral or rejection. And life is too short for that.
Believe me, I am guilty of doing all of the above things. I overthink and overstress and take my academic successes and failures to heart. I hate that I spent so much time doing these little, inconsequential things. This was time that 20 children were robbed of. This is time that a first grader will never get to have. This is time that a teacher, who dedicated her life to making others’ dreams come true, no longer has to look forward to. This is time that the survivors will spend mourning the loss of their friends and brothers and sisters and parents.
I am still in shock that something like this could possibly happen so close to home. When one hears about the victims from the Aurora movie theater massacre, or the Columbine shootings, we feel sorrow and pain for the families who suffered such tragic losses. We look from afar at these places where these surreal events occur and we thank our lucky stars that we are not “them.”
This time, we’re not a plane ride away. We can’t look from the comfort of our homes and think about how we are separated from these people. This happened in Fairfield County, in our backyard. These students — these children — could be our siblings, our babysitting clients, our neighbors. Newtown is so similar to Weston; it is an idyllic town and its main attraction is the school system. Everyone knows someone who knows someone; it’s impossible not to when we are a 25-minute drive away.
I look at my ten-year-old brother, who has not experienced the many joys and pains and surprises of life, and can’t help but think of the children — younger than he — whose lives were cut so painfully short. I don’t want to have to tell him how schoolchildren were senselessly killed. Especially since he so recently witnessed my “tragedy,” and must have thought that this is what the end of the world looks like.
I know how difficult it is to balance worrying about the future and living in the moment. I have struggled — especially in the past few days — to make sense of this whole situation. I have no simple answer for how to find that perfect balance between preparing for what is to come and living each day as if it is your last.
All I do know is that right now, I, unlike so many others just miles away, have my life ahead of me. And I will have my share of screw-ups and mistakes and opportunities. Until Dec. 14, I panicked about these problems of the future. I overthought what is to come, and didn’t focus on what I should be doing today.
Life is short. Painfully so. Never take it for granted.