It’s graduation season, and that means that young people around the country will gather to reflect on all they have accomplished and to look forward towards all that is to come.
First at colleges, and then at high schools and even middle schools, solemn celebrations will pass on words of wisdom, providing guidance to young people entering the next phase of their lives.
Pursue your passions, they may be told. Or perhaps, find something you love that can also support you financially.
They will be told of their potential, that they can accomplish more than they might think.
They will be told that perseverance and passion can bring about remarkable outcomes, or perhaps, that pursuing happiness is a worthwhile goal.
It’s a miraculous time. Young minds on the verge of greatness.
You have your whole lives in front of you, they will be told.
But there are too many empty chairs for that to be true.
Graduation is a remarkable accomplishment, one that is worthy of celebration and reflection.
But for too long we’ve said these words and for too long we’ve listened to them, and for too long we have believed them.
In 2013, CDC data shows that over 11,000 people age 15-34 committed suicide, making it the second most common cause of death among that age group. Not far behind, over 8,500 people in that age group died in homicides. And that’s to say nothing of the many deaths cited only as “unintentional injury.”
And if that wasn’t enough, homicide is the third most common cause of death for those 1-4, claiming 337 lives in 2013, and suicide is the third most common cause of death for 10-14, claiming 386 lives.
10-14. With razor blades pressed against their skin.
And yet, come May, we look out at those fine graduates – who have accomplished so much, who have achieved so much just by making it as far in life as they have, and we, as society, have the audacity to tell them:
Be happy – you’ve got your whole life ahead of you.