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OPINION: Young people want their lives back

by Preston Jones | March 31, 2021 at 5:24 a.m.

"So what happens when we realize that 80% of the measures taken against the coronavirus weren't necessary?" It's a question I've asked myself and others over the past year. It's also a question that will hover over today's young people for the rest of their lives.

A year ago, a minor pandemic triggered a mass psychological crisis. Usually leaders are expected to promote calm. Ours did the opposite. It's true that more than 500,000 deaths linked to the virus is a high number. It's also true that more than 600,000 Americans died in 2019 from heart disease, but we didn't launch a society-wrecking campaign against fast food. Did some in the population need to be sequestered? Yes, my parents among them. Did the general population need to exercise some caution? Yes.

But did millions of key lifetime experiences for young people -- proms, graduations, athletic events, camps, mission trips -- need to be ruined? No. Did millions of young people's educations need to harmed or destroyed? No. Did hundreds of thousands of at-risk young people need to be put in a place where they would simply disappear from school rolls? Did internships and athletic careers need to be erased? Did healthy young people need to be isolated and muzzled and then be left to suffer the social and psychological consequences? Did our children need at least $8 trillion added to the national debt and heaved onto their shoulders?

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal estimates that the children whose educations have been derailed over the past year will see their lifetime incomes reduced by 6% to 9%. And more young people have died from suicide in despairing response to anti-virus measures than have died from the virus itself. Psychologically, morally, economically and educationally, the young have been dealt a pointlessly cruel hand. It needs to stop.

So it was heartening to overhear a few bright young women at a local café collaborating on an effort to reclaim a key moment of youth: High school graduation. I didn't want to eavesdrop, but once it became clear what they were doing, I couldn't help but admire their effort. I even heard references to Jefferson's "Declaration of Independence." I left them alone but congratulated them before leaving.

Not knowing the details, I don't have an opinion about what graduation at the high school or anywhere else should look like. But these young women, and the other young people who stand with them, should be acknowledged for their respectful but firm effort to salvage a key life event.

Below, with light editing, are excerpts from the students' letter.

"Dear __,

We are writing this letter to voice our concerns and feelings regarding the graduation arrangements that are currently in place. We do respectfully request that the arrangements be reconsidered with our feelings in mind.

The seniors of Siloam Springs High School are entitled to a true graduation. We have learned and grown together for the past thirteen years. Together, we have faced a global pandemic and endured countless disappointments and changes in the past twelve months with grace and unity. We have come this far together, and we desire to graduate together as well. While we understand the concerns connected with COVID-19, we have done our research and believe that a full class graduation is possible....

Currently, during lunch, around 330 students, unmasked and not socially distanced, are allowed to be in the cafeteria at one time. Athletic events are allowed to be held at sixty percent capacity. We are also allowed to hold a junior/senior prom in our school cafeteria.

Barnhill Arena has the ability to seat nine thousand people, yet, if each student is given six tickets and graduation is split in half, only nine hundred will be present, filling only ten percent capacity. This is fifty percent lower than the capacity at a typical Siloam Springs High School football game....

We propose the following:

  1. We move graduation to an alternate venue to better accommodate a full class graduation. (Some options might include the SSHS football stadium, the soccer fields across from the high school, or the back parking lot.)

  2. We keep the half class graduation at Barnhill arena but allow all graduates to remain seated after receiving their diploma to support their fellow graduates.

We do not need a fancy arena or an official stage in order to have a memorable graduation ceremony. What makes high school graduation memorable is the people present to celebrate with us as we enter a new season of life.... Our seniors deserve a true graduation. We believe that, with a little creativity and the support of our community, we can make this a reality.

We, therefore, the representatives of the Siloam Springs High School Class of 2021, humbly ask that we be allowed to graduate together."

-- Preston Jones lives in Siloam Springs and oversees the website "War & Life: Discussions with Veterans." The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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