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Column

Styf: Graduates, it's up to you how we respond

As we celebrate the area’s high school graduations, the task ahead for the graduates has changed, just like graduation day has changed.

And there are no clear answers. This past week, you saw what happened.

At Dixon High School’s graduation practice Wednesday, school resource officer Mark Dallas stopped an attempted attack. On Friday, students at Santa Fe High School in Texas weren’t as lucky.

Ten were killed. The shooter lived. And Friday night, I watched TV interviews with one student who survived a gunshot wound to the head and said he scaled a 7-foot wall to escape and another, who was interviewed with her mother, who said she would never return to that school.

So much has changed since April 1999, when I was a high school senior and the shooting at Columbine High School grabbed our attention. On Saturday, many had moved on by the time the royal wedding began.

Back then, in the weeks afterward, schools across the county scrambled to create plans for an attack. No one knew what to do. My high school sent us to the stands at the football stadium as the school was inspected. Another area school sent students to the gym.

While schools’ strategies to combat attackers have changed and improved, the shooters have improved, too.

The reality is that there’s no simple solution. And we as adults have failed the students in creating one.

Yes, it’s complex. It involves mental health, bullying, glorification of previous attacks and access to guns.

This week alone had conflicting evidence. Both shooters used their parents’ guns. And in one case, an armed officer stopped it.

Which brings me back to this year’s graduates and one of the challenges ahead of them.

Yes, they should strive to be the best they can be, regardless of what stands in front of them – work, college, family or whatever it may be.

But as important, this year’s seniors should strive to make us all better, both themselves as they grow into professionals and lawmakers, and the difference makers of the future.

Think hard about the fear that led the equivalent of 523.5 students to miss school at Cary-Grove High School on Feb. 27 after a threat on the school, and think about the complex ways that we can work to fix that.

Because, if nothing better is done, this problem will continue to get worse.

Teachers and students should not have to go to school in fear. But some level of that is reality for all at this point.

And we should all hate it.

We shouldn’t make it a political issue that divides us. Instead, we should work together to solve it.

I get that sounds incredibly naive – because these are divisive issues – but there has to be some level of truth within it. I’m skeptical it will be solved quickly, which is why I believe that the world the high school students now create ahead of us can be the world that solves these issues.

They’ve lived it. They know that fear.

• Jon Styf is editor of the Northwest Herald, a Shaw Media publication. He can be reached at jstyf@shawmedia.com or 815-526-4630.

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