School is officially over for the year and while I am thrilled and proud of the 2019 graduates that I know, I am still waiting for the awards and the scholarships that are based on being a good human. The other awards and recognitions are important and all, but I wonder what the world would be like if we actually placed importance on virtuous values — the values we try to instill upon our kids. What if the honors received by our students were based upon the way they treated other people?
You can tell me that it would be impossible to equitably have a program like this, but I would disagree. This doesn’t need to be a huge laborious effort. We just need to figure out how to recognize integrity and humanity, so that we may aid in turning out kind and compassionate young adults. People who do the right thing. Graduates who care about people who struggle. Academic and material success and achievements are nice, but in the end, they are not the only thing that matters. We tell our kids that it’s more important to do their best than it is to win. Yet, when it comes right down to it, we still reward the top students and the top winners in all areas.
When my daughter died three years ago, naturally my entire world changed. I had a complete paradigm shift regarding what’s important in life. I have quickly learned the traits I most want my children to have. And being kind and compassionate are secondary only to being alive. I have grown tired of only hearing how smart a kid is. Instead, please tell me about their heart. I want to know how good their heart is. Tell me about their compassion, the way they care, the way they help others. Tell me about the last time they saw someone being bullied or left out and how they went to bat for that kid. How they risked their own reputation and their own friendships to help someone that was struggling. Tell me about their kindness. I want to know how they’ve done and said kind things to people and how it could never really benefit them and how they did it anyway. I want to know how they included someone who was left out. How they didn’t allow someone else to decide who was “popular enough” to come along. And if that not “popular enough” kid still wasn’t allowed to come along, tell me how your student backed out of being with the popular kids and stayed home to invite the unpopular kid over.
I want to hear about these things. Because these are the important things. The things that matter. The things that will truly make a difference in this world. Because above all else, it will be their kindness and their compassion that will be remembered forever. So Congratulations class of 2019! Now go out into the world, do good things and be kind.
Toni Plante grew up in Wayzata. She lives in Minnetonka with her husband, Al, and their two dogs. Her remaining child, Leo, lives in NYC. She, her family and extended family all miss Ana terribly. Suicide prevention and mental health are her passion. She is not a therapist or a counselor. She is a parent who is committed to making a difference by sharing her experience.
This column is meant to offer insight and awareness, not advice. If you have suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.