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What If It Happened to Me?

By Sarah A. Rodriguez

I started off wanting to write this, my final column before classes end, about how I've been a terrible Harvard student. I wanted to sarcastically mourn the fact that I never learned to talk throughout a lecture, monopolize a section with pointless drivel, or mockingly intimidate my fellow students. I wanted to complain about all the people who have taken on these infuriating habits, and how I wish them nothing but empty and meaningless success for the rest of their life.

Then the massacre happened in Littleton, Colo., and suddenly all of these Harvard-related squabbling didn't seem very important anymore.

The news of the two teenage assailants who killed a dozen of their classmates before committing suicide--along with the propane they left in the school cafeteria, intending to blow the entire building up--has got the entire nation buzzing with fear, sympathy, and (of course) blame galore. A number of people, conservative and liberal alike, are claiming that this represents America's decline in values. Many more point the finger directly at the two boys' parents. Still more blame the public school system for alienating the boys.

My friends and I have gotten into several debates--in our rooms, in the dining hall, even at parties--over the real roots of this senseless tragedy. Although we may never know the real motive behind the boys' fury (and arguing about it does nothing to keep it from happening again), we continue to debate in the hopes of finding a cause, and thus, a prevention for the future. The people I'm close to, as well as myself, can all look at our hearts would ever commit such terrible crimes. But there was a point when the two boys' peers could have said the same thing about them.

So how then, exactly, are we to protect our loved ones and ourselves from becoming victims of something like what has happened in Littleton? The answer to that remains even less clear.

I first heard about the shootings during a Fox News commercial during evening reruns of "The Simpsons." I was snacking on something, curled up on my roommate's futon, trying to ignore the guilt I was feeling over my unfinished schoolwork. The news of the incident stunned every conscious thought I had out of my head, as I'm sure it did for many people. The first thought I had was, "Oh my God, that could have been any school. That could have been my sister and brother's high school. That--God, no--could have been the elementary school my mom works at." I'm sure I wasn't the only Harvard student (and especially not the only human being) who thought this first and foremost.

Amidst the fear and pain that suddenly washed over me, I also felt unbearably frustrated. What could I have done, had I been in that school on that day? What could I do if (God forbid) someone did try to commit a similar or worse crime in my sister's algebra class, my brother's football practice, my mother's cafeteria duty hours?

Parents across America can try to have more control over their children's lives. Legislators left and right can put new restrictions on the Internet. Trench coats and so-called "Goth" wear (which have actually been popular without incident for years) can be banned from school dress codes. The government can issue even more vouchers for kids to be yanked out of public high school and thrown into debatably better private schools.

Although many of these actions violate various Constitutional rights, they may prevent such a massacre from ever happening again. But what if they don't" How are we--students, teachers, other adults, the popular and unpopular kids alike--supposed to face tomorrow with all of this horror and fear on our shoulders?

I have faced a great deal of sadness in my life--my estranged father's death, my mother's three marriages and divorces, the penalization and death of my sister's best friend. But amidst all of this tragedy, I have also been very lucky. My family fights, just like any other family. But unlike many families, we also know that deep down inside, we really do love each other, and stand by each other during the darkest hours of our lives. In addition, I have had a number of friends turn on me for petty reasons over my life; but the circle of people I keep close to my heart now means the world to me.

I'm certainly not the only person blessed with close family and friends--and I know I'm not the only one frightened of losing them. The two teenage assailants apparently felt no such respect for human life. As horrifying as their actions were, I cannot help but wonder what drove them to that point of violent hatred--and can only hope that my own loved ones are never forced reach it.

Faced with Commencement in less than two months--and with it, the official end of my college years and the moving away of nearly all of my friends--is terrifying in and of itself. The real-world pressures that await me (particularly the job that I don't have yet) are nauseatingly worrisome. But these concerns are nothing compared to what the survivors and relatives of the slain in Littleton, Colo., are going through right now. For them I offer up all of the sorrow, sympathy and understanding my human heart can muster.

For the people I love and for anyone else reading this column, my only advice is for you to live the rest of your life as fully, richly, and kindly as you can; to pray for hope to whatever power you believe in; and, while we still can, to hold each other as closely as we can. Sarah A. Rodriguez '99 is an English concentrator in Winthrop House. Her column will resume during reading period.

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