A recent letter by Whistler Secondary School principal Bev Oakley may have caused a furor with parents and this year’s grad class, but here at The Question we think that is a good thing.
The letter, penned in response to the high school’s longstanding grad “kidnapping” tradition, opens the door for the community to have a conversation about underage drinking.
Often, traditions like this are hidden. Nobody challenges them because, as the argument goes, they are a tradition. Rituals like this can go a long time without reaching the spotlight of controversy.
Yet, for the most part, when these historical conventions do explode into public discourse it is in the wake of a tragedy — when something potentially dangerous that is rationalized through an argument of “this is how it has always been done” goes horribly, and sometimes fatally wrong.
Remember hazing? A quick Google search will find any number of teenage deaths related to that so-called tradition. The search engine can also turn up tragic details of teens dying from alcohol poisoning. These realities are a real concern and that is why Oakley penned the letter in the first place.
There is a spectrum of thoughts on an issue like underage drinking — from overly-permissive, head-in-the-sand opinions to the knee-jerk prohibitionist. Within these two sides is the place where dialogue as a community occurs about what is an appropriate grad tradition in Whistler.
It is a conversation that must include those who it is about — teenagers.
Let’s face it, being a teen is nasty, brutish and short, relative to the rest of our lives. Part of that age is defining yourself as an individual while being in a rush to grow up as fast as you can.
As a generation, young people today are facing more complex issues in their daily lives than before. And turning 18 or 19 years old does not a responsible adult make.
Everybody can agree the end goal is to keep our children safe and healthy. But the strategy of total prohibition when it comes to teenage drinking is ineffective, leading to secrecy and, some may argue, a prediliction for binge behaviour.
This year’s WSS grad class has addressed the principal’s letter with a level of maturity that should be commended. They have point-by-point gone through what they consider to be misconceptions about the kidnapping tradition and shared it with school administration and the community through this week’s front-page article in The Question.
As a grad class, they have changed the kidnapping tradition to include designated parent drivers. Everyone being “taken” in the night has had his or her parents’ permission and nobody has been bound and gagged and thrown in the trunk of a car.
But, what they didn’t do is reserve their behaviour of celebrating a significant milestone in life with their peers for times when it is appropriate – i.e. weekends. They have recognized this, and when the torch passes to next year’s grad class the responsibility lies with them to further improve this tradition.
Demystifying and deglamorizing alcohol is the best harm-reduction strategy we can promote for our youth by teaching them moderation and restraint. As a community we can support the approach our grads are taking to celebrate safely by continuing to sponsor the grad events each year.
But the grad classes of the future can also be aware, they are responsible for this event and keeping it safe. Like turning 19 years old and reaching the legal age to consume alcohol, with great power comes great responsibility.