If I sat at this keyboard until the end of my days, I would never be able to as perfectly describe what I mean by empowered resilience as beautifully as the student survivors of Stoneman Douglas High School. They have embodied it with their words, tears, and deafening 6:20 minutes of silence. Hell, survivor Samantha Fuentes embodied it when, during her speech in front of millions at the March for Our Lives in Washington D.C., became overwhelmed with emotion, nerves and fatigue vomited on the stage, gathered herself, and kept speaking her truth!
We often describe resilience as “bouncing back”–the ability to spring back and recover from challenge and adversity. Had these students returned to school after its reopening, attended their prom, worked on college essays and finished their classes, we would rightful declare what astonishing resilience they showed. They would have bounced back into their lives after picking up the pieces from their trauma. Yet, these students didn’t only bounce back, they bounced forward. They demonstrate their empowered resilience by taking their traumatic experience and are using it to shape a new way forward. They are recreating a narrative not only for their lives, but for the very narrative of America. Indeed, I believe that when we look back at the biggest advances in our society, be they scientific, civil rights, democracy and more, they came on the trails blazed by those who are fueled by empowered resilience.
As adults, parents, leaders and teachers, we need to support them as their phoenix rises. Take them seriously, follow their lead, challenge and develop their critical thinking, nurture their curiosity and even their skepticism. But here is my gentle request, adults. Do not saddle them with the weight of heroes. Do not place them so high on a pedestal that they cannot be heard when they ask for help. One of the worst things we can do to another human being is to put them on a pillar of perfection. Why? Because then it becomes about us and our own needs and expectations being met. We can become disenchanted and disappointed when they are simply their pure, authentic, imperfect selves.
The toll of trauma is a net cast far and wide. It will be unearthed, reshaped, wrung out, tripped over, packed away many times over throughout the course of their lives. They will stumble…as we all do. As those waves of trauma and grief come, putting them on a high pillar has them dangerously and precariously perched above angry waters. Instead, if we are there floating along with them, anticipating the waves of grief, we can be there to wipe the salt water from their eyes, throw them a rope, remind them that they can still touch the ground and stand up. We can hold space for them to rest. We can remind them that to “fail” is growth and resiliency, too. We can help dry off those newly grown phoenix wings and fly again. Or to vomit in front of millions and laugh it off.
This generation, these students, are teaching us lessons we didn’t know we needed to learn. It will be an honor to stand with them in both their most triumphant and darkest moments.