By Rich Wilson

The ending weeks of the 2016-17 school year left me feeling sad and discouraged. It was the first time I had felt that way since I’ve been in this job. 

Like everyone else in our community, I struggled to cope with the death of a student in the last few weeks of school. When a young person takes his life, it leaves the rest of us with a haunting feeling. That was especially so in this case, given neither his parents, his sister, his teachers, his coaches or his friends could figure out why he took such a drastic step. He didn’t leave behind any clues either. Graham was a freshman, successful in school and well-liked. He had a ready smile and tons of potential. We were left asking ourselves: Why? 

For whatever reason, he had given up hope.  

Reflecting on this, I’ve come to the conclusion that we have to teach children the importance of hope as they journey through life. My analogy is that the journey of life is like walking down a very long hallway.  As a small child, the hallway is bright with sun shining through the skylights, all the doors along the hallway are open and the rooms off the hallway are bright and sunny as well.  You’re free to run into any room, and experience the wonder of discovery. “I can be and do anything.”  If you walk down the hallway in our Montessori, you have that sunny feeling.

As you grow older and continue your journey down the hallway of life, it’s not quite as bright. Some of the doors are closed. You realize you don’t have the coordination to be a professional athlete or maybe you don’t have the cognitive ability to be an astrophysicist.

Continuing on the journey there are bright and cheery parts of the hallway but there also dark parts as well. Sometimes those sections are pitch dark and every door is closed. Perhaps Graham was in that part of his journey, and the rest of us didn’t know it.  

Adults who have been on life’s journey for a while know that even when life is at its darkest, somewhere down that hallway there is an open door. We can’t see it. We find it hard to imagine an open door exists, but our life experience and observing the lives of others has shown us that if we keep on the journey we’ll find the open door.  

The challenge teenagers face is that they don’t have the life experience to know this is how the journey of life is. They may find themselves in the darkest part of the hall. All the doors seem closed to them, and there is no light farther ahead. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teens (after accidents).

Our job as the adults in their lives is to teach them the importance of hope. We need to bring it out in the literature the children read, the struggles of various groups in history, the search for answers that scientists hypothesize and then seek to prove. When children say they can’t do math, the teacher replies, “Of course you can. Let’s work on this problem.”

Our faith rests on the principle of hope: Eternal life, the hope of Christ’s return. The Bible has plenty to say on the subject:

  • For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope: Jeremiah 29:11 
  • Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen: Hebrews 11:1  
  • Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer: Romans 12:12 

I’m reminded of the line in the Rodgers and Hammerstein song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” from their musical Carousel: “Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart, and you’ll never walk alone.  You’ll never walk alone.”

There are many aspects of The Summit Way. Helping children understand and internalize the principle of hope needs to be central to our work with them.

Reprinted from the fall 2017 issue of The Summit magazine