During the last week I’ve had more people than I care to count ask me this emotionally charged question: “How are the kids all doing?” When I reflect more deeply, however, I realize that I’ve been getting asked that question about Gibraltar High School students not just for the last few days, but for the last few years.
What the children of this community have had to endure in the recent past is more than most adults overcome in a lifetime. They are 18. They are seven. They are 12. At graduation in June, two empty seats will be on stage, commemorating the lives of students we’ve lost. Next year, another.
While at times, what they have been through seems truly unbearable, what continues to astound me the most about our kids, appears in the way I have been answering that question.
I answer it like this: They are hurting. BUT. But, the children of this community are remarkable. They are reflective. They are resilient. They are kind.
We’ve watched them mourn together. Four years ago, I remember watching how staff and students leaned on one another for support. We watched how the community came together to fight with a brave young man who taught us so much about strength and love. When that fight was over, his legacy was the kindness on their lips. It still is.
Each time they must face a new challenge, these students do something people do not always do. They fight. They organize. Leaders emerge. Even in the moments when so much tragedy and adversity clings to our little corner of the world, these kids rise up. It is nothing short of inspiring.
I think of the students out at the baseball fence, relaying messages of love and hope. Of the football and baseball players working tirelessly to prepare a benefit dinner for their teammate. Of a graduating senior singing “Blackbird” on stage with her teacher in memory of a brave and beautiful staff member. Of friends making a video for Tessa around school to remind her how much she was loved at every moment. Of my volleyball players silently touching Bo’s words on the wall as they pass out of the locker room.
It seems to me that change is inevitable; nothing stays the same. I didn’t learn that lesson until adulthood. Our kids know it all too well. None of us would have chosen this tragedy, chosen to bid farewell to people we love and admire. It is the grace with which our students have borne it, though, that tells me how extraordinary this community is.
Life inside the walls of Gibraltar affords students opportunities that are truly unavailable elsewhere. The capacity to forge relationships of mutual respect and understanding amongst students and faculty is unparalleled. Likewise, we have open doors for parents to come in and share their expertise and talents. Although I appreciate the education I received in suburban Chicago, I look back at the 400-plus classmates I had, and there are faces I truly do not recognize. And I don’t think this is just a suburban-rural difference, or even a big school, small school disparity. This is Gibraltar Viking culture. It speaks to so many undefinable factors that contribute: the selfless and tireless parenting, the passion of our teachers, the delicate balance of rigor and intellectual freedom in the classrooms. These children exist in an environment where it is okay to push out of their comfort zone to take risks – to succeed wildly and fail miserably. It is okay because they are supported and loved.
So when I look at the empty desk in my classroom and I feel the sting behind my eyes of hurt and anger at moments of tragedy we can make no sense of, I am reminded of the gift this community has given our children, and in turn what they continue to give to us. Hope. Strength. Inspiration. They carry the memory of those lost on their path, and the message of their kindness and wit in their words. Because of what they have endured, as heartrending as it is, they are more prepared for what lies ahead in life.
They know how to be brave in the face of darkness and how to rise up.
Please consider coming to support Gibraltar’s volleyball players and alumni on Monday, Oct. 3, at Rally for Hope: an alumni game to benefit volleyball parents Amy Haleen, Art Turnquist and Kenan Bunda. The event begins at 6 pm.
Lauren Bremer is an English teacher and volleyball coach at Gibraltar High School. She lives in Baileys Harbor with her children. Every day she is proud of what our children accomplish.