I am the father of school age child. Not a moment goes by that I don’t worry about her. Will she behave in class? Will she do well? Will she make new friends? Will she get an A on her spelling test? Will she grow up to be smarter than me? Will she get into college? Will she get a great job? Will she invent something or discover something that will solve world problems? Will she make it home safely today?
You see, what you did today was very, very brave. It was a selfless act. Something simple. Something we would usually punish a student for in my day; pulling a fire alarm to get out class. But you did it to warn others. You acted in a way that probably saved countless lives, just like my little girl. I can only imagine what your mindset was when it happened and then, to have been attacked by the person who caused this chain reaction of events that have reached CNN and the world, you are now a hero. You are a part of the tapestry of parental nightmares that have plagued all of us since Columbine happened fifteen years ago this coming April 20th. Southwestern PA now joins a host of other schools and communities that have become statistics of classroom violence. All of us more worried each day that somehow that evil will find its way into our children’s schools.
But, you were there and you did what you did and now, by virtue of being born towards the beginning of the Gilded Age of Social Media, you are part of the historical tableaux of memories, like the students dangling out of the window of a Virginia Tech classroom. Your face and your act will be remembered. You are a hero.
You deserve this moment for being the one to “Roll into action”. You and all the others who helped stop the threat before more could be injured, including yourself, deserve so much praise and thanks. For that, this is your time to shine. Your Facebook wall is probably flooded right now with well wishes and bro fists and probably dating offers. Your profile picture will probably your Children’s Hospital pic for a day or two… There’s already a community page on Facebook, which is probably not related to you in any way. You’re going to have interviews with local media and probably National Media. It’s not unfathomable to see you ending up on the couch of Fallon or Letterman… because the media loves a hero so much in the face of tragedy.
It is also your time to reflect. A lot of criticism is going to come your way, from myself included, simply because you exist in that “Gilded Age”. The selfie seen round the Commonwealth already has a Twitter following and a People.com article. Again, I thank you for what you did, but remember with great power comes greater responsibility… and clichés. Don’t think for one moment that you aren’t a hero, but also not above reproach in the eyes of those who made you famous for what you did. You are a hero, but you’re also a teenager, and I get that. Taking the selfie “Chillin’ at Children’s” is the tip of a proverbial iceberg of contextual misconception. In one light, it’s a kid being a kid, taking a moment to show the face of a tragedy. But in another, it’s a kid being dumb and disrespectful while his classmates are in critical condition from their wounds. The choice of how you choose to identify yourself in that moment is your own.
Humility is a powerful balance and can never be abused. Remember this as you take those first steps towards no longer being anonymous outside of Allegheny County. Remember this when your attackers are armed with a Social Media account and not a knife. Remember this when it’s time to go back to being anonymous. Remember this when it’s time to step up as a man in your 20s and 30s and 40s. Be the man who pulled the fire alarm every day of your adult life. Be the hero when your own child goes off to school and worry about them every day. Be the humble American who does things not because of the photo op but because it’s the right thing to do. You do all that, and you will be fine.
Thank you and have a speedy recovery.