March 13, 2018 - Tracy Fortmann, President
It was Saturday, February 17, a little less than a month ago that I realized that the manner in which America's youth communicates has changed. I was immersed, neck deep, in the review of a Value Analysis (VA) document (a way to choose between construction alternatives) at the kitchen table. It was a quiet afternoon and I was fully engrossed in this technical rehabilitation analysis when I felt a presence. I glanced up and there across the table sat my daughter staring at me intently.
"How long have you been there?" I asked.
"Few minutes," she replied, her eyes never leaving mine.
"What's up?" I asked.
"Nothing," she replied. There was a pause. "I'm thinking."
I smiled and went back to reading. My daughter and I have grown into an easy relationship in which we choose when to talk. We have this unspoken ritual we follow when we want to talk about something important. When she wants to talk with me, she frequently initiates the conversation in an indirect fashion, say, like sitting across the kitchen table staring silently at me while I'm reading. I know that in this communication "dance" that we do that I do not immediately dive in which is my want. I instead have learned that I need to give her the space to determine when she actually wants to begin the conversation. So, I go back to reading. A few moments pass.
"So, we've been talking about want happened in Florida on Valentine's Day," she begins. "We're really concerned and we want to take some action to let people know how we feel, but do it in the right way. We're discussing a number of actions that we could take."
"Who's we? Are you talking about your friends?" I ask.
"Everyone, mom. Sure, my friends, but the conversation is nationwide. It's kids across the country and we're all discussing and debating among ourselves as to what's next."
I then began an eye opening, inspiring conversation with my daughter. Young people across the nation were discussing on snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, and through other social media the need to take action after the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14th. It was just three days later and my daughter was discussing just one of likely thousands of high school students across our nation who had taken it upon themselves to create a dialog of concern that had gone viral. It was there that she shared that students were discussing the possibility of a walkout from school on March 14th for 17 minutes to pay homage and respect to those who had lost their lives.
"Mom," she began gravely. "This is serious. We want everyone to understand that all of us—not just there or here, but everywhere want to be safe in our schools."
I learned a lot from my daughter that day about how she, like so many young people in our nation, is thoughtful and should not be taken for granted. Her fellow students and she should not be viewed as too young to understand complex, difficult societal issues. She shared that this wasn't about playing hooky or goofing off. This was about acting in a deliberate, impactful way. Together, we discussed the importance of school and education and being responsible. Together, we decided to notify her Principal to let her know that many high school students across the country were engaged in conversations and that we wanted the school to be aware.
There is a lot to criticize about social media today and we all should have tremendous concern about how this new way of communicating is conducted for good or evil. There is so much misinformation and material that truly "wastes" one's time and mind (I know I sound like a mother). I think the list of social media's inadequacies, problems, and true dangers is a long one. And,yet, here is an example in which social media provided young people the opportunity to engage in important conversation—to discuss a life and death situation and how they want their world today and tomorrow to be.
My daughter shared, "It's about speaking up about how important feeling safe is to us through our numbers. We want to be heard." Social media provided that avenue for young people to talk, share their feelings, and then choose to mobilize throughout the United States. In this instance, social media truly served our young in a very amazing way.
My daughter, with careful deliberation, will step out of school on March 14th, exactly one month after the tragic deaths at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and quietly stand and reflect for 17 minutes on those who lost their lives. They are sharing with us. They are speaking to us. This is the manner they have chosen to state what is important to them. This is their communication dance. I hope we all take heed. I know I will. I am listening and I know many others across the country are listening too.